HELENSBURGH’S food bank and other volunteer groups face a race against time to secure new premises after a national charity announced the closure of a vital community centre in the town.

The British Red Cross (BRC) facility in East Princes Street had been due to close next month, with those who use the hall informed just two weeks ago that the building was being put up for sale.

However, after the Advertiser intervened – and in the face of widespread condemnation from Helensburgh residents and politicians alike – the charity performed a dramatic U-turn in the space of less than 24 hours.

We learned of the impending closure on Saturday, and contacted the Red Cross on Monday seeking more detail.

LATEST HEADLINES: Helensburgh housebreaking pair 'deserve jail', says sheriff

And the following day the charity announced it had decided to delay the move until the end of the year, “to allow community groups more time to consider their next steps”.

The hall has operated for almost half a century and is home to several organisations and events, including the Helensburgh and Lomond Foodbank, Alcoholics Anonymous and local art classes.

Mary McGinley, chair of the food bank, which also has a facility in Rosneath, said she remained upset and concerned by the impending closure, despite the stay of execution provided by the BRC.

LATEST HEADLINES: Man arrested over 'knife attack' at Helensburgh flat

She said: “That will give ourselves and other community groups and organisations time to develop a plan for a community buyout.

“It will be important to ensure the Red Cross Halls remain a community resource for those who wish to make use of them.

“We are most grateful to the Red Cross for all the support they have given us to date as we would have found it very difficult to establish the much-needed food bank without their generous help.

“All who come to us receive a friendly welcome, a cup of tea or coffee and a chat. They clearly feel at home in this venue.

“There is a bus stop at the door and the central but discreet location of the hall makes it an excellent venue.

"If it were to close we would find it very difficult to secure accommodation which would offer such ideal facilities.

“We’ve been most fortunate to have had great support from the Red Cross in Helensburgh since the food bank first opened almost five years ago.

“The local branch have given us access to storage for our day-to-day stock and equipment as well as providing a venue for the drop-in sessions held on a Monday and Friday morning and a Thursday evening.

“The hall has been part of the Helensburgh community for as long as I can remember and it would be great if it could be retained for use that benefits local groups and community organisations.”

READ MORE: Helensburgh's food bank hands out 500 holiday lunch boxes

A weekly book sale has also run at the premises for more than 40 years and the Wednesday sessions remain popular with visitors.

However, Margaret Horrell, lead volunteer, said she was appalled to learn that her services will no longer be required – and accused the charity of “slashing the heart out of the local community”.

She said: “It’s ridiculous. There are so many people who use the hall. There are around 50 volunteers attached to the food bank alone.

“It’s accessible, it’s on the bus route, and people can get there and back without any difficulty.

“The whole thing is just ridiculous to close it for the sake of what I would call a short-term gain.

“To me, the distraction they are causing to people’s lives is counter-productive to anything else.

“There are other halls in the town but they are pretty well booked up and are not as convenient.”

LATEST HEADLINES: Parents' fury over faulty crossing on Helensburgh dual carriageway

Margaret said the news of the impending closure was delivered a fortnight ago and struck a hammer blow to the volunteers.

She sent a letter to the British Red Cross CEO in the hope of convincing the organisation to reverse their decision.

She added: “This book sale has been running for over 40 years in our town. The volunteer staff are all highly qualified people who give their time freely.

“Last year alone we raised almost £6,000 and have raised more in the past when we also sold bric-a-brac. We actually house more books than our public library and deliver a great community service to many who feel it is a safe haven for their invalid partners while they can go safely to shop elsewhere.

"We were informed about our closure the week before Red Cross Week. I cannot imagine a worse publicity exercise.

“The Advertiser printed a letter from Ben Fogle recently pleading for volunteers to collect or donate to the Red Cross when in fact the organisation is slashing the heart out of our local community and volunteers, more or less saying ‘we do not need you’.

“I appeal to all who are interested in our town and community to rally round in support of our hall and its use to the whole area.”

READ MORE: Shock figures show Helensburgh food bank use is soaring

Marie Hayes, director of independent living and crisis response in Scotland at the BRC, said: “We are aware that other organisations who use the centre would face understandable pressures if we closed it before they had a chance to find a way for their operations, which are valued by the community, to continue.

“It has been decided, therefore, to keep the centre open till the end of the year, and we hope this extra time will enable the various groups to find a solution.

“The Red Cross delivers its UK operations from premises all over the country. While many of those are ideal for the services we offer, some are under-used by our services or are not in the best location for our service users.

“We will be continuing our operations in the Helensburgh area but once the centre does close, they will be delivered differently and we will make announcements about that in the future.”

LATEST HEADLINES: Helensburgh tennis hero Gordon honoured by university in Glasgow

Argyll and Bute MP Brendan O’Hara said: “I am still disappointed that the Red Cross will close its doors to our community later this year.

“When I heard about the shock decision, I wrote to appeal to them to rethink this or work with the local community to limit any negative impact their decision may have on the town. It looks like they have come round to the latter.

“The facilities at the Helensburgh Red Cross are an invaluable local asset and I was deeply concerned that there wouldn’t be enough time for community groups to respond.

“I remain disappointed at the BRC’s decision for the Helensburgh centre but am grateful for the temporary repeal.

“Helensburgh has a strong volunteer base and this facility is strongly relied upon by some of our most vulnerable people in the town.”

READ MORE: New report reveals scale of Argyll and Bute food poverty crisis

Maurice Corry MSP said: “I am extremely saddened to hear about the impending sale of the Red Cross centre.

"The centre not only helps to raise funds for the Red Cross, but provides a base for many extremely important local groups.

"With its close proximity to HMNB Clyde, who are well aware of the great work the Red Cross provide throughout the world and the aid they provide in times of conflict and trouble, it is a key centre to remain open.

"I would welcome any local group needing assistance to contact me as we cannot see their vital services lost within our town.”

LATEST HEADLINES: Anger at council's plan to charge for parking at Duck Bay on Loch Lomond

Jackie Baillie MSP added: “It is disappointing to learn that the British Red Cross has decided to close the centre in Helensburgh.

"Not only is the service provided by the Red Cross locally vitally important to many people, the centre has provided a home for several other organisations for many years.

“I am glad that they have pushed back the closure until the end of the year allowing the organisations who use the centre to find suitable alternative arrangements. However, the community are still set to lose the service next year which will be a blow to many people.

“I hope that the chief executive will review the decision and retain the Red Cross centre and its services in the long term.”