A LIFELONG mental health worker who was honoured with an MBE has died, aged 86.

Anne Gardner was the founder in 1997 of Bournemouth-based charity and catering company The Crumbs Project, which provides ‘training for independence’ pre-employment programmes for mixed ability adults.

She came up with the idea after her daughter was diagnosed with schizophrenia at age 17.

During a time when a long-term stay in a mental hospital was often the normal response, Anne argued that adults in long-stay care should have, in her words "a pattern to their day, a skill at their finger tips and something to talk".

Of Crumbs, she said: "I wanted to create a social, safe place for adults suffering with mental health and later, learning disabilities and stabilised addiction problems to thrive."

Having trained at Guy’s Hospital in London from 1949 to 1953, Anne went on to volunteer as hospital manager at St Ann’s Hospital in Poole for some 10 years before creating Crumbs.

The charity recently celebrated its 20th birthday and has enjoyed growing catering sales while seeing its trainees better equipped to find employment.

Anne's substantial work was duly recognised with an MBE in the Birthday Honours in 2008.

She was also appointed as life president of the charity at the end of last year, with chairman Douglas Eyre presenting her with a painting of a seagull - a memento of the book ‘Jonathan Livingston Seagull’ which she associated with her daughter Liz, and was the inspiration behind her starting the charity.

The charity said its founder's "resilience and energising passion" was essential to its success.

Mr Eyre said: "Anne, through her founding of Crumbs, has literally made a difference to hundreds of lives helping folks with special challenges in life towards greater independence.

"A strong, determined character who knew exactly what she wanted. But with a heart of gold, a keen sense of humour and always, even when struggling with great physical problems herself, a very graceful lady.

"She was also a dedicated family person and our thoughts and prayers are with George and her family."