A CHARITY worker from Helensburgh is preparing to don her kilt and running shoes to raise cash for a good cause which is particularly close to her heart.

Alison Sturgeon will be walking 22.6 miles in the Glasgow Kiltwalk, from the city centre to Loch Lomond, next month to raise money for armed forces charity SSAFA – the Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen’s Families Association – after they helped her secure funding for a life-changing extension to her home.

Alison’s son, Jack, 23, suffers with autism and a learning disorder. After leaving school Jack’s needs became far more complex and despite a lot of transition work being done, he struggled to cope with the change.

He gradually became more and more agitated and unsettled and at one point had to be hospitalised. He underwent many medical tests but fortunately, the results were all negative.

READ MORE: £2 million raised for charity in 2018 Kiltwalk

Alison is already well known in the town as the assistant manager of the Cancer Research UK charity shop in Sinclair Street and as one of the driving forces behind the area’s hugely successful Stand Up To Cancer fund-raising effort.

And it was through chatting to one of the Sinclair Street store’s regular customers that Alison decided to seek out SSAFA’s help.

Alison said: “At that age young people’s brains go through an enormous amount of growth, which can have a knock-on effect with their mental health and wellbeing.

“This growth coupled with his huge change in routine made life a real struggle for Jack.

“My husband, Jonathan, was due to retire from the Royal Navy after 27 years in the submarine service, but our hopes of him getting a well-paid job were dashed as it would mean travelling a lot, and I needed his support at home to look after Jack and his younger sister Holly.

“Luckily, he secured a job at Faslane as a trainer which was a huge relief.

“It soon became apparent that our current living situation wasn’t meeting Jack’s needs, or our own, so we sought help from Argyll and Bute Council to secure funding.

“We had always planned on extending our home at some point in the future, when Jack was older, and we had saved enough money.

“We hoped to convert our existing garage into an adapted living space for Jack to be supported by his carers and to give ourselves some much-needed privacy.

“We started the very long process of applying for funding five years ago. The council eventually agreed to pay for the wet room and soft wall coverings, but despite mortgaging our home, there was still a huge deficit in money.”

“It took years to pull together the necessary medical reports and builders quotes and at one point, our original architect disappeared with £500 of our money.”

READ MORE: Alison hails Helensburgh's Stand Up To Cancer generosity

The Sturgeons nearly gave up because the project started to seem impossible and became a drain on their finances. Then, SSAFA Dunbartonshire came on board.

But James Leatherby, branch chairman at SSAFA Dunbartonshire, was a regular customer at the Cancer Research UK shop where Alison works as Assistant Manager. – and as a last gasp, they thought they would ask SSAFA to help them secure charity funding for the project.

Alison said: “James, and Janet Mulvaney, our case worker, came on board and pulled off nothing short of a miracle.

“The project cost £29,000 and £18,000 of that was sourced by SSAFA from a variety of other charities.

“James and Janet visited our home a variety of times and saw how agitated Jack was and understood that we’d explored every possible avenue.

“They tried every charity under the sun and offered moral support throughout the project, particularly through the year long process it took to build the conversion. The building process was beset with problems, however by Christmas 2018 it was finally completed.

“Jack now has a big lounge with a TV and sofa bed, plus a wet room and patio doors so he can have his own entrance.

“The walls are lined with cork and every effort was made, following advice from our occupational therapist, Ann Stewart, on how to make the room as safe and calming as possible. Soft lighting and thick carpeting mean the noise is muffled and it is a very soothing environment for Jack.

“His favourite animals are elephants, and I managed to find elephant wallpaper to add the perfect touch. We call it Jack’s Jungle Room.

“He spends a great deal of his time in there pacing up and down, playing with his toys, and the wet room is big enough so that we can support him to shower if needed.”

The project was only made possible thanks to funding from SSAFA Dunbartonshire, Argyll and Bute Council, the Royal Navy and Royal Marines Children’s Charity, the Royal Naval Benevolent Trust, and Poppy Scotland.

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Alison said: “We are indebted to them all for the patience and generosity in finally giving Jack the adapted space that he needed, and it has had a hugely positive effect on all our lives.

“It was a tremendous relief for us all when Janet and James came back to visit the completed conversion and could see how much calmer Jack was.

“James and Janet deserve medals for what they have achieved. We would have had to give up by now if they hadn’t stuck with us.

“I’m hoping that by raising awareness and funds for SSAFA that we can thank them properly for the amazing work that they have done.”

This year’s Glasgow Kiltwalk takes place on Sunday, April 28. As with previous Kiltwalks, it’s open to all ages and abilities, and is a great way to get friends and family together to raise funds for charity.

As before there are three different distances you can cover, though this year there are some changes to the routes and starting points.

All three distances – the Mighty Stride (22.6 miles), Big Stroll (15 miles) and Wee Wander (six miles) finish at Loch Lomond, but the Mighty Stride begins on Glasgow Green, with the Big Stroll starting at Queens Quay in Clydebank and the Wee Wander at Levengrove Park in Dumbarton.

Sign up and find out more by visiting www.thekiltwalk.co.uk.

You can also support Alison’s efforts by donating to her online fund-raising page at glasgowkiltwalk2019.everydayhero.com/uk/alison-33.