A CHARITY nursery described as a "little patch of paradise" by its clients was ransacked by heartless thieves on Tuesday night.

Three men wearing hoodies and gloves smashed their way into Cherry Tree Nursery's shop before stealing charity tins and money from a cash box at around 9.50pm.

The nursery - the first project of charity Sheltered Work Opportunities Project - was set up in Northbourne 25 years ago to provide sheltered work rehabilitation for people with severe and enduring mental illness.

Jessica Davies, who works with clients, said volunteers had been left upset and shocked by the "violation".

"These people have broken into our shop and stolen a number of charity donation boxes, one of which was a collection for an AIDS project in Uganda," she said.

"They've even ripped our donation box straight off the wall. It just seems absolutely pathetic that someone could have done this. I don't understand what type of person could take a charity box."

Sadly, volunteers at the nursery have been trying to raise the funds to buy an alarm for the shop.

"As part of our 25th anniversary appeal were were fundraising to extend our security system and security lights to cover the shop," Jessica said.

"The people who did this came prepared to steal. They seem to have climbed over the gate and pulled down the fence before forcing open the door. They even turned the light on while they went through everything, so they were quite sure that they wouldn't be seen."

But Jessica said that what was most upsetting was the "intrusion".

"We are a charity for people with severe mental illnesses, and the nursery represents a safe haven for more than 200 people," she said.

"These thieves have violated the safe space that Cherry Tree provides. It's an intrusion. The fact that the money stolen had been donated through the goodwill of others is especially distressing for everyone."

The nursery opened as usual yesterday despite a police investigation, and Jessica said: "We need people's support more than ever at the moment.

"We would really love to be able to buy an alarm so this can't happen again."

The nursery's spring plant sale will take place on March 28 from 8am until 3pm, and all are invited to attend and support the charity.

To donate to the nursery, visit www.cherrytreenursery.org.uk/donate-to-the-charity.htm