Meanwood organisation left 'devastated' by theft of memorial benches honouring people who died during Covid-19 pandemic

A community organisation based in Meanwood has been left 'devastated' by the theft of two memorial benches, both of which honoured people who died during the Covid-19 pandemic.

By Tom Coates
Wednesday, 15th June 2022, 3:09 pm
Updated Wednesday, 15th June 2022, 3:19 pm

Youth Movement Against Violence (YMAV) are based at Meanwood Community Centre and only recently started working on their community healing garden.

They provide support to families and individuals affected by violence and offer services such as counselling and workshops.

One of the benches honoured a friend named Michelle Dennison, a nurse who died in November last year, and staff at YMAV were left reeling when the benches were taken and their garden was vandalised.

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One of the benches honoured Michelle Dennison, who died in November 2021. Credit: Lee Brooks

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Lee Brooks, founder and executive director of YMAV, said: "We were just absolutely devastated.

"We're a small charitable organisation and the majority of our sessions are free to actually help people.

"To think that somebody can actually do this to the company and to the people that use it, it's really sad."

One of the benches honoured Michelle Dennison, who died in November 2021. Credit: Lee Brooks

The ordeal was made even more gut-wrenching by the fact plans had been made for Michelle's parents to visit the garden and be the first to sit on the bench.

Those plans have now had to be cancelled.

Lee said: "It took us ages to even build up the energy to ring them and let them know what happened. It was just awful."

Fortunately, a plaque with Michelle's name on had not yet been fixed to the bench when the garden was stolen from and therefore was not taken.

As well as noticing the benches had vanished, staff realised their vegetable patch had been trampled on and destroyed.

Lee explained: "We're an organisation that supports families of victims of violence and we deal with a lot of trauma as well.

"The garden wasn't just for victims of violence, it was for helping people's mental health. It was to help people who have just got through the lockdown to help them get back outside getting fresh air, meeting new people.

"It was also for young kids to get involved - learning, getting gardening skills, doing something constructive and positive."

Amy Mahon, a project facilitator at YMAV, said: "Our volunteers come week in and week out to give their time, they put a lot of effort in working.

"It was heartbreaking to see how upset they were, to think that somebody could do that within their own community."

A JustGiving page has now been set up to try raise the funds required to replace what was stolen and install security measures.