HELENSBURGH community groups have united in a bid to try and save a vital town facility from closure.

The British Red Cross had been accused of “slashing the heart out of the local community” earlier this year when it was announced that the Red Cross hall in East Princes Street would shut in June.

The charity decided to delay the move until the end of the year, however, it now seems that a solution has been found to extend the hall’s presence in the town beyond half a century.

A buyout bid has been launched by a new group, Helensburgh Community Hall, which was formed with the intention of securing ownership of the premises through Scottish Government legislation.

According to land reform policy, community right to buy allows communities in Scotland “to apply to register an interest in land and the opportunity to buy that land when it comes up for sale”.

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The Helensburgh steering group needs the support of 15 per cent of the residents living within the Helensburgh Community Council boundary – around 2,300 people, and a petition has been set up to gather the backing required.

Mary McGinley, chair of the steering group and the Helensburgh and Lomond Foodbank which has run drop-in sessions at the hall for the last five years, said progress is being made and she is hopeful of a positive outcome for everyone involved.

She said: “We are pleased that a number of individuals who have experience in working with local charitable and third sector organisations are committed to working collaboratively to secure community ownership of the hall and offices as a resource for the local community.

“Without the support from the Red Cross and the generosity of the local community we would not have been able to help those who find themselves without food or the means to buy food.

“The hall is unique in that it offers a space with on-site storage facilities which ensure access to supplies for every session.

“Its location away from the busier town centre makes it a more discreet venue for users and with a bus stop outside it is easy to get to. There is also good disability access and these factors combine to make it a key resource for the community.

“Discussions with the British Red Cross are ongoing and we hope we can arrive at a mutually acceptable outcome and that we will be successful in acquiring the property for the benefit of the local community.”

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As well as the food bank, which also operates in Rosneath, the hall is home to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, arts and craft classes and a weekly book sale, which has been ongoing for more than 40 years.

Mary added: “The Red Cross has been part of the fabric of life in Helensburgh for generations, with a First World War field hospital being situated at Hermitage House, now Hermitage Park.

“The Red Cross Hall itself has been a feature in the town since 1948.

“Many people will have childhood memories of attending fund raising jumble sales or Junior Red Cross and first aid classes in the hall.

“Generations of Helensburgh families have made donations and bequests to the Red Cross Society while others have been volunteers and given years of service to the Red Cross.

“If we are successful, we aim to allow continuity of the charitable and community activities that already take place.

“We then plan to maximise community benefit by leasing the vacant office and storage space to charitable and third sector organisations.”

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Katrina Sayer, development manager at Jean’s Bothy mental health hub in East King Street and member of the steering group, said: “Without the Red Cross hall the local community will lose one of its vital assets which has huge potential to fill known gaps, such as a lack of storage space, lack of affordable office space and hall hire.

“If it is sold for development one of only a few community spaces will be lost forever.

“It’s a complicated process but the individuals involved are motivated to see the process through and would encourage the wider community to get involved, support the vision and contact the group if they would like more information on how they can support.

“You can contact the group by emailing helensburghcommunityhall@gmail.com.

“The most important way in these initial stages is to sign the petition.

“Petitions are currently being given out to local shops, cafes, hairdressers and pubs, so please look out for them, as well as being circulated electronically to a number of groups and organisations.

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“The petitions do need to be signed in person and by those living within the Helensburgh Community Council area. Keep an eye out for them if you are in town.

“It is the group’s hope that a robust plan to retain the hall for community use can be developed, with the full support of the local community.”

Helensburgh central councillor Lorna Douglas, who is also part of the steering group, said: "The possibility of the centre becoming a community hall for the people of Helensburgh is a really exciting venture.

"To have a hub that can offer facilities, services and support for local groups and individuals would be a great asset for the town."