AN ANDOVER charity is pleading for help after being allegedly subjected to a campaign of vandalism and abuse by a gang of youths.  

Since opening in February at the site of the former Dorothy Perkins store, Andover Clothing Exchange and Baby Bank has seen its windows smashed, doors damaged and employees heckled and verbally assaulted.  

Tania Hall, the group’s founder, went public with a call for assistance this week, claiming the incidents committed by gangs of young people are having ‘a massive impact’ on their work. 

“We don’t have the funds to replace the windows,” she said. “We can’t be on our own there at the moment. Because they hang out there, especially during half term, I’m dreading the six weeks holiday coming up.” 

The incidents began taking place shortly after the charity moved into the empty building in February. They used two of the floors to store clothes and other items for those in need, with the top floor having toilets, a staff room and additional storage space. 

“As time has gone on, we’ve noticed that there were kids climbing on the roof and so we shouted at them to get down,” she said. “As our presence became more known they began vandalising the property and breaking windows.”  

Tania said the problem has been getting worse in recent months, claiming that more and more young people are congregating on the roof of the former M&S building, using her venue as an access. 

“It’s becoming more and more of a problem,” she said. “We’ve got all the windows on the top floor having been broken so we can’t really use the upstairs at all. Our toilets are up there, the staff room and we can’t use them as they’re full of glass.  

“The rails at the back of the property are no longer usable, and police have found needles at the fire exits at the back of the building so even when we clear the rubbish that they have created we have to be careful about being hurt by those.” 

She has been reporting the issue to the police, but said that they had been unable to help her because of the possible dangers to the people on the roof falling or jumping.  

A spokesperson for Hampshire Constabulary said it is aware of the ongoing issues. 

They said: “The local Neighbourhood Policing Team will be working in partnership with the store and site owner to address the security of the premises. 

“If incidents such as anti-social behaviour or criminal activity are reported to us then we will respond where appropriate and possible. 

“We would encourage anyone who witnesses such behaviour to phone 101, or 999 if a crime is ongoing.” 

After contacting police, Tania said she also tried contacting councillors, but found little success until Cllrs Iris Andersen and Stu Waue became aware of the situation. 

Cllr Waue visited the shops earlier this week, and spoke to shopkeepers in the local area. He said the problem was wider than just Tania’s building. 

“I don’t think anyone had discussed it with each other,” he told The Advertiser. “Tania, Savers and the Blue Cross all have regular issues with them up there. There’s even a family living above the Blue Cross who have caught them up there, and as soon as they open their mouth the kids hurl abuse at them.” 

He said that he was worried about the possibility of one of the children being hurt. Under the Occupiers Liability Act 1984, Tania would be liable if anyone was injured falling from the roof of her building, even though she is not the owner, because there is a potential danger she is aware of, and knows trespassers can access it. 

“Poor Tania is running a charity gig and she would be liable if they fell,” Cllr Waue said. “With the abuse she’s getting, the worry and the cost, if it all goes catastrophically wrong and one of them falls off she will be the one crucified. That is a real worry. At a time when we’re trying to save the high street stuff like that is going to put people of getting a shop.” 

He also raised concerns about the possibility of a fire, following a bin at the rear of the building being melted by a fire recently. Tania shared his concerns, warning of a risk to the wider high street. 

“I’m afraid they could set light to our premises or put fires in the bottom entrance,” she said. “All our shops are all connected so it would be like the Fire of London if it went up.” 

Cllr Andersen also visited the shop this week, having worked on the issue for some time, and told the Advertiser that “something needs to be done” about the issue. 

“I know that the police are stretched to the limit, but something needs to be done and put in place,” she said. “For the health and safety of everybody I don’t want to see any harm happened to anybody or an accident. 

“What we have to think of there are several businesses open along there that have to suffer it as well. This charity that is supporting families that need help. That this should be done at the back of their shop is awful. 

“This is our town and we don’t want to see it go this way. It’s a lovely town and community so much goes on in supporting local things.” 

Tania said that the councillors had been a great help, saying: “We weren’t getting help from anyone even though we’d reached out before. Since then, I’ve now spoken to the property director of M&S as well as the prevention rail they have in place isn’t stopping them getting up as there’s a gap.  

To gain wider support, she also appealed for help on social media earlier this week and said she was “grateful” for the offers of support she received.  

“We’ve had some generous donations from the community,” she said. “Hopefully someone will help us with installing security cameras, as we can’t put in permanent ones as we have to turn the power off when we leave for the day.  

“We’ve had money donated from Graham Walters at Test Valley Models to buy more anti-climb paint, so we’re hopefully able to do as much prevention as we can and then the council can help further. We’ve been avoiding doing anything publicly because we didn’t know how it would come back on us.” 

This concern follows an alleged incident with the Andover BID Rangers, where she pointed out the young people she claimed were on the roof of the building. 

“He had a chat with them and then said: ‘These lads here would like to retrieve their drink from over there’ and he then introduced me as the owner of the property to these kids, even though I wasn’t in front of the property,” she alleged. “Now I’m worried and I have to park further away because they might vandalise my car. I am now the target.” 

Steve Godwin, the Andover BID manager, said he could not comment on the specific allegation as he had not spoken with the individual concerned, but said: “These issues are a part of the police and Test Valley Borough Council’s anti-social behaviour responsibility. The rangers have visited the site regularly and observe and report issues to the police.  

“It has to be done through the right channels. It quite a big problem that the authorities are facing and we hope to support that where we can.” 

One prong of dealing with the issues which has been suggested is contacting local schools, which Cllr Stu Waue hoped would have some impact, even if small. 

“If all the secondary school headmasters can put the word out about not wanting to have their students doing this, that might deter them a smidge at least,” he said. 

He said that at the end of the day, investment in the shops is going to be needed to secure them against further incidents. 

“A set of gates at the back of Savers and Tania’s shop would help cut off the easy access points and hopefully if that happened then they wouldn’t be bothered to go up there anymore,” he said. “Someone will have to put their hands in their pockets.  

“It might cost thousands to put it up but if a child goes through the roof then it will become much more of an issue. It’s a short term hit for long-term gain.” 

Tania is now hoping that the raised awareness, and co-operation of various organisations, will help bring solutions to this ongoing issue, and hopefully resolve things once and for all. 

“We want to co-ordinate and challenge this properly altogether,” she said, “rather than us all doing it individually because otherwise it’ll just move elsewhere.” 

Responding to a request for comment from The Advertiser, an M&S spokesperson said: “We take this matter very seriously and carry out regular inspections of the site to ensure the property is secure. We are working with our managing agents to ensure we protect the premises and prevent trespassing on the site.” 

A Test Valley Borough Council spokesperson said: “We are aware of incidents of trespassing on buildings around the town centre, and, as usual, we are working closely with the police, fire service and the BID rangers to try to make sure those responsible don’t pose a danger to themselves and other members of the public.

“Where possible, we will take proactive action with any information that is received by working with schools to educate and inform of the dangers posed. If these actions continue, stronger measures include the possibility of acceptable behaviour contracts.

“The landlords have been made aware and we would encourage any reports of similar incidents to be passed to the police via 101 or online.”