VANDALS broke into the nativity shed on Southbourne Green on Tuesday night, causing “irreparable damage” one day before the nativity characters were due to be put in.

Peter Southcombe, Minister of Immanuel Church, said: “For the last five years people have enjoyed (the nativity) and it hasn’t had any problems so it’s really sad and disappointing.

“I was gutted last night when I got the call that the door was hanging off and the roof had been kicked in.

“It’s irreparable because it’s bent and twisted the whole frame. Although the plastic looks okay, they have snapped it in places as well.”

Peter said a new shed needed to be ordered which will cost nearly £600. He hoped this could be ordered to arrive on Thursday.

Fiona McArthur, who does a lot of work for the community, set up a JustGiving page which raised over half of the £600 needed within 12 hours.

Fiona said: “It’s overwhelming. It’s testament to the people in Southbourne who want to help.

“That’s what Southbourne is all about. It’s about the community coming together and sorting this out and making it a better place to live.”

Peter added: “We’re not going to let it affect this year’s nativity. We are going to override this.

“The characters were supposed to go in today, but they will another day.

“We’re going to put a light up that’s movement sensitive. There’s not much else we can do.”

Gordon Fong, a resident of Southbourne who gets heavily involved in community projects, said: “I was administrator for the Southbourne Facebook group. There’s 14,000 members in there and they’ve been really supportive. They’ve stepped forward already with the JustGiving page.”

On a post in the Southbourne Facebook page, Gordon wrote: “We still need a little more help on the fundraising with a few more coins to help.

“A new (shed) will be bought as it needs to be part of the event on Saturday. Extra lights will be fitted to help security but yes, it is an open exhibit for the public, for families to get close to it.

“We can look forward to the full event on Saturday afternoon.”