‘Professional’ gang ransacks Richard Branson-backed Leeds children’s activity centre

Factory of fun: Hazel Merlino and her niece, Freya Undrewood, five, at the Rainbow Factory shortly before it opened
Factory of fun: Hazel Merlino and her niece, Freya Undrewood, five, at the Rainbow Factory shortly before it opened
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Owners of a Richard Branson-backed children’s activity centre in Leeds say they are “devastated beyond words” after it was ransacked by thieves.

Burglars forced their way into the Rainbow Factory, at Springfield Commercial Centre on Bagley Lane in Farsley, overnight last night.

They trashed a play area and destroyed tills before breaking into a back office and wrenching a safe off the wall.

It is believed they even took some food from the fridge before escaping with the safe, which contained a large amount of cash.

In a post on Facebook, sisters Hazel Merlino and Sarah Underwood, who opened the centre in June and have had hundreds of customers, said: “They took everything that was worth stealing (which is a lot!) and so we will not be open today.

“We’re going to try our hardest to fix all the broken windows and get the place back to some operational order so we can be back open tomorrow, or at least for the weekend.

“We’ll keep you posted. Our sincere apologies for any inconvenience this may cause anyone. We’re devastated beyond words.”

Mrs Merlino told the Yorkshire Evening Post: “We have had children arriving at the door and bursting into tears because they can’t come in.

“What sort of a life do you have to have to do something like this?”

She added: “We think it was a professional job – they would have had to have all the right tools on them to destroy everything the way they have.

“They have probably been scouting the area for a while.”

The only venture of its kind in the north, the Rainbow Factory encourages children to experience classic and modern stories through activities and handmade models.

It was one of just six new businesses from around the country to be named Virgin StartUp Ambassadors, with founder Richard Branson hailing it an inspiration to budding entrepreneurs.

Mrs Merlino was recently made a Child Friendly Leeds Ambassador.

News of the break-in was met with anger by dozens of people on Facebook.

Michelle Deacon wrote: “So sorry to hear that, such a wonderful place for kids and adults.... Some people just have no shame.

Lisa Holmes added: “Who steals from a children’s play centre? People are scum! Hope you manage to get things back into order soon!”

The sisters thanked people for their support.

They are intending to go ahead with planned half-term activities next week.

For updates go to www.rainbowfactorykids.com.

Anyone with information about the burglary should contact the outer west neighbourhood policing team via 101.

Nearly half of those charged were over 35

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