As part of National Volunteers Week, the Advertiser meets some of the people who are helping to make life better for children and families at the Robin House children's hospice in Balloch...

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Down a gentle slope from Robin House near Loch Lomond is a lovely rainbow bridge leading to six acres of tended gardens.

But when Pater Kane painted the bridge, he had the paints numbered because he suffers from colour blindness.

And when he was sent to pick up the paint, fellow volunteer James Ramage – who is registered blind – was with him.

Recounting the story, they still laugh about it years later as it has remained a standing joke.

The pair started contributing their time to the charity within months of each other about a decade ago.

“Someone gave me a paint brush when I started here,” said Peter, 70, from Balloch. “I’ve been standing with a paint brush ever since.

“It’s entirely different from what I thought. People who try it, stay. We come up and don’t need anyone to say what we need to do. You’re not coming up looking for a job.”

READ MORE: Helensburgh nurse given key CHAS role at Robin House

When Peter started, there was only a greenhouse on the grounds but that has expanded to include everything from a wooden castle to a vegetable garden for the kitchen.

“I love it up here,” says James, 56, a former window cleaner from Tullichewan in Alexandria. “You come up here for the kids and, once you see them, you want to do the work.

“Every day is different.”

Margaret Harkins had retired and had been fundraising for Children's Hospices Across Scotland (CHAS), so she already had some insight into what was going on at Robin House.

“I love coming here every week,” said the 66-year-old from Alexandria.

“When we fundraised, it was with customers and the generosity was overwhelming.

“I worked in a bank – I wanted something with no stress, and there’s no stress up here. It’s such a nice atmosphere to be in.

“Everyone is so happy.”

Jamie Swan, from Dumbarton, has Asperger’s and volunteering for general maintenance work and as a driver has increased his confidence. He’s been attending the house for nearly seven years.

“It’s such a nice place to volunteer,” said the 31-year-old, “and it’s stress-free and everyone is really nice.

“They’re really good working around my Asperger’s.”

READ MORE: Tributes to Helensburgh doctor who was CHAS founding director

CHAS, which was set up in 1992, built Scotland’s first children’s hospital, Rachel House in Kinross, followed by Robin House, which opened in 2005.

Donations raise most of the cost of setting up the vital services – more than £9million.

There are physiotherapy workers, social workers and play specialists, and they’ve even started trying the new “bounce therapy” involving a trampoline.

Children’s rooms are on the main level of Robin House with parents staying downstairs, giving them a bit of breathing space during weekend respite from what is often 24/7 support, which they provide at home.

Nicola Porciani, volunteer development manager at Robin House, says the feedback from families about Jamie is that he is such a calm person whose contribution makes such a difference to staff, particularly on the driving side.

Jamie recounts getting to know one family while picking them up and taking them home from the hospice. When their child passed away, their family approached him to thank him.

“I didn’t really think I was doing anything, but they were so thankful,” he says. “You’re making a difference.”

James agrees the families are so humble and grateful for the support: Margaret said she gets thanks from staff and families.

Robin House offers end-of-life care, respite care for families and much more.

READ MORE: Behind the scenes with CHAS at Robin House

The hydro pool, art room, den, peaceful grounds and bright open spaces give families breathing space as well as specialist and vital care at some of the most difficult moments of life.

“It’s not just children cared for, it’s siblings – the whole family is part of the community,” says Margaret. “That’s the nice thing about it.”

Nicola says what they do for each family is different.

“It can be a bit of hand-holding,” she says. “Some parents will not know what they need. Sometimes we have to say, ‘Here’s what we can offer’ – even just a massage. Sometimes saying, ‘You need to take a break, you need to get a night’s sleep’.

“It’s building up that trust so that we can support them.

“We want to see the very best for our families.

“We know our children might have a really short time so let’s make it best for the child and their families.

“When families are at their lowest ever, we can support them. Whatever that family is to their child, we will support them.”

Robin House is currently looking for housekeeping volunteers, gardeners for the peaceful grounds and even a choir lead to offer a Thursday sing-song.

READ MORE: Check out all the latest Helensburgh and Lomond news headlines here

But Nicola says anyone with a skill should get in touch – they’ll make use of the support of the community.

There can be accredited training for those helping CHAS, which helps young people gain confidence, the long-term sick get back into work, and other opportunities.

“A big part of my job is supporting our volunteers,” Nicola adds.

“If you’re willing to volunteer, just come up and try it,” says Peter. “It’s one of the happiest places I have ever been. We are here to make life better.”