Almost £2,000 worth of wheelchairs have been stolen from a disabled rugby team in Leyland.
The Leyland Warriors Rugby Club was planning to take its league-winning wheelchair team out into the wider community this year, following its recent successes.
But Phil Roberts, chairman at the club, says any future schemes are now on hold, until they can cough up the cash to replace the much-needed specialist equipment.
“We’ll struggle during training now because more new players are signing up all the time,” he said. “They can’t just use normal wheelchairs because they’re not built to take the impact.
“These ones have an extra ‘anti-tip’ wheel at the back, and the wheels go further out at the bottom than they do at the top to make them less likely to tip sideways.
“We were meant to be starting school sessions in September, we’ve been putting a programme together for that, but if we can’t replace them by then, it just won’t happen.”
He added: “We bought the wheelchairs using a grant from Sport England about a year ago. The ones which have been taken are worth £900 each.
“We have 11 in total and the thieves have taken two of them, as well as six spare wheels.”
The theft has come at a particularly poignant time for the team, as work finally started last week to upgrade the club’s facilities at the Moss Side Playing Fields, following years of fundraising.
A new club house is being built with better changing rooms and the car park is also being extended because the site is so busy and popular with members of the public.
Phil says the break-in has come as a major blow at a time when everyone should be celebrating.
“We’ll have to apply for more funding now to replace these wheelchairs,” he added. “They were in a storage unit at the site, and they’d only actually be in there for a couple of weeks.
“I used to keep them all in my van but I sold that so I started keeping them at the club in a lock-up unit.
“It’s possible someone has seen us putting them in there after training one night.
“We don’t have any insurance yet because we’ve never had anything of much value in there.
“The two they’ve taken were the cheapest types, so I think anyone who knew what they were looking for wouldn’t have touched them. They’re no good for the metal.
“We’ve been looking all over the fields in case it was just kids and they’ve dumped them, but we haven’t found anything.”
He added: “It seems they managed to break the padlock. We can’t find the old one, but we’ve replaced it with a much stronger one so that this doesn’t happen again.
“It’s so annoying because the team has worked so hard and it’s been a fantastic year for us; everyone is so committed.”
l See next week’s Guardian to find out more about the work taking place to upgrade the park’s facilities.