YOUNG people in Helensburgh have been told that the future of the town's much-loved Hermitage Park lies in their hands.

The message comes from the volunteer group leading the park's £3.3 million refurbishment as they outlined their vision to beat the vandals who continue to disrupt their efforts.

Reports of disorder and anti-social behaviour have upset the progress made in recent months, as memorial trees have been stolen, bins, fencing and benches have been damaged and graffiti has been scribbled throughout the park.

The Friends of Hermitage Park admitted in February to being “incredibly disheartened and angry” and they were “left wondering whether it is worth continuing” as a result of ongoing incidents.

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However, a much more positive light has now been cast by the organisation’s chair, Fiona Baker, who is keen to emphasise the good work that is taking place and the value of young people’s contributions towards that.

Fiona said: “Hermitage Park is for the enjoyment of everyone of all ages and abilities, it is a precious resource for everyone in the town and our visitors.

“It is unfortunate that a very small minority of young people have been abusing the park. The Friends set out to save it from terminal decay and improve it for the benefit of everyone. Of course we are disheartened and angry to see our efforts being undone but wringing our hands will not solve or improve the situation.

“The project has actively engaged with young people from the very beginning and continues to do so.

“The vast majority of teenagers are positive, polite, helpful and engaged in making the park a great place for everyone. Teenagers have always hung out in the park for as long as there has been a park – anyone who grew up here who says they never hung out in the park is fibbing!

“Moving the teenagers out of the park would not solve the problem, just focus it somewhere else. We think the answer is trying to provide the facilities that they want and need, to continue talking and engaging with them, making them welcome and encouraging positive contributions.”

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Among the proposed new facilities being considered are a shelter for young people to sit in and a specialist graffiti wall with a masterclass in how to create interesting art.

These designated youth spaces would, Fiona says, hopefully encourage teenagers and children to embrace the park as an area to be proud of and respected.

Although security cameras and a warden scheme have been mooted to act as a deterrent to crime, presenting the park as an area open to all in the community remains the project’s key goal.

Fiona added: “The Friends strongly believe we need to engage with the youngsters who are making trouble and try and find a solution together. However, we also believe that a minority should not be allowed to ruin the enjoyment of the majority.

“We have costed the top of the range CCTV system and the cost of completely fencing the park and locking it at night. These are last resorts and not the route we want to go down but they are on the table if we can’t resolve the vandalism by finding a solution through engagement with the young vandals themselves.

“The Friends want Hermitage Park to be a place that can be enjoyed by everyone, that is loved and valued and which serves the needs of all of the community.

“Lots of young people are involved in shaping the future of the park in a positive way and we hope all the children making happy memories in the new playpark will help to look after the park in the future.

“We will continue to try our best to make everyone feel welcome in the park and meet the needs of all park users and we hope the community as a whole will support, love and respect Hermitage Park now and in the future.”

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Work started in 2017 and is expected to be completed later this year, with young people very much at the heart of the process.

Members of the Helensburgh and Lomond Youth Forum are regularly involved in planting new greenery and designing landscapes, while pupils at Hermitage Academy have also helped out.

Rosie Sumsion, the area’s MSYP and chair of the Youth Forum, said: “Our partnership in regards to the park is very much still in the drawing board stage however we are hoping to create a band-stand style space.

“We’re hoping to shape the space around young people’s ideas – consider it a youth-planned, youth-led, youth-run project. Basically, it’s got young people at its core.

“We hope to be responsive to the opinions and ideas put forward in order to create a space that will be respected and enjoyed.

“Currently many young people use the park regularly – not for graffiti - and love the space, so we hope to further improve on these experiences.

“Of course we know issues such as vandalism exist but more importantly we know they only represent a very small minority of young people and while as a community we can work together to tackle such issues, as a youth forum we are determined to not let it overshadow the incredible work young people do.

“I’m excited to share our project with the community as it develops and hope they will support the young people creating this positive change.”

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More than £3million of grant funding has been spent on the project so far and Argyll and Bute Council, which has worked in partnership with the Friends throughout its duration, said it will continue to support the plans for youth spaces.

An Argyll and Bute Council spokesperson said: “We have involved young people throughout this process, through the Helensburgh and Lomond Youth Forum and also via direct conversations with young people who regularly use the park.

“These conversations will continue and will help shape the facilities that are ultimately provided.

“Additionally, our youth services and Hermitage Park project teams have supported young people to volunteer in the park, encouraging ongoing positive contributions to its development.

“The Hermitage Park project is a significant investment and we are determined to make the park something that local people of all ages can enjoy and be proud of for many years to come.”