A CHILDREN’S centre manager is warning council chiefs to expect more vandalism if they shut down due to funding cuts.

In the latest incident in West Howe, Bournemouth, arsonists set fire to football nets, smashed up other sports equipment and burnt benches and other parts of the Fernheath Cricket Pavilion.

Among those who use the burnt changing rooms at the pavilion in Verney Road are some of the 300 youngsters registered with Fernheath Play next door, including disabled children. Fernheath Play manager John Hardwick blamed the vandalism on the cuts the children’s centre has already had to make due to loss of funding.

Mr Hardwick fears they will shut if the council cuts a further £34,000 in March, leaving them with £45,000 per year in total but larger overheads.

He said: “This was mindless vandalism.

“We opened up to combat this anti-social behaviour but with all the funding cuts we can’t engage these young people and it goes full circle.

“They start vandalising again.”

In the two fires started between Sunday, February 3 and Tuesday, February 5, windows were smashed before the fires were started and the taps were turned on, flooding the premises.

CCTV footage shows a large group of children around the centre when it is believed to have happened.

John added: “We can’t prove that we reduce vandalism but we found it wasn’t happening once we were here.

“But now we can’t afford as many staff and the vandalism has started again.

“Without the funding we are likely to close and it will cost the council to mend more damage the children will be doing.”

A DECISION on the Fernheath Play’s funding has yet to be made by Bournemouth council.

Rachel Gravett, resources manager for community learning and commissioning, said: “Fernheath Play Association currently receives funding from four areas within adults and children services and to date no funding has been stopped.

“West Howe is a priority for the council and we have been keen to work with the play association and continue to do so.

“The organisation has been supported this year by officers from within the council and through external services in 2011 and 2012, commissioned by the council to provide business advice and support to help make the organisation sustainable.”