Charity workers were distraught after mindless yobs vandalised and trashed their award-winning garden used for therapeutic support for vulnerable people.

The garden, Growing Together Shoeburyness, in Elm Road, was broken into overnight on Wednesday. Vandals climbed over the fence and rampaged through the garden which has recently won the prestigious Green Flag Community Award.

The garden is run by Trustlinks which supports people living with mental health problems, learning difficulties and children.

Matt King, chief executive, said: “It’s just very sad and awful because this is a garden that helps vulnerable people. It’s not fair to them.

“They pushed over the trelisses, smashed porcelain pots and dumped them into the pond, and wrecked the polytunnels.

“We left the garden at about 3.30pm on Wednesday and we came in yesterday at 8.30am. We were shocked to discover a great amount of mess the vandals left behind.

“We estimated the damage would cost £500 and we plan to do crowdfunding to buy CCTV cameras which will cost about £1,000. Hopefully CCTV will deter them in the future. We’ll need to put back some anti-crime paint on our benches.

“It’s very devastating for us because we just won an award for our work on the garden.”

The charity used a £300,000 five-year grant from the Big Lottery Fund to transform the garden, which was an empty allotment, into a productive garden.

Mr King said: “We also have animals here such as guinea pigs but luckily they were not harmed. They’re very well-loved by the children.

“They also smashed the windows of the the bird hide but thankfully there were no birds there. We regularly have wildlife visiting our garden.

“What’s even more sad was they didn’t spare the children’s play area. They left a lot of mess there so we have to replace the sandpit.

“There is also a garden which students from Friars Primary School designed and worked on. There were Hibiscus flowers on there but now that’s gone. It’ll be hard to tell the children what had happened because they’ll be devastated.

“The pupils visit us every Monday so we have to clean up all the mess before they arrive.”

An Essex Police spokesman said: We were called to reports of an incident at an address in The Woodlands, Southend. Damage had been caused to items including plant pots and trellis between 3.30pm on Wednesday, January 10 and 8.30am on Thursday, January 11. Contact 101 or crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 and quote crime reference number 42/4894/18.