THE challenges of living with, and helping others living with, the effects of the coronavirus lockdown are especially great in rural communities.

But for people living in the furthest-away corner of Helensburgh and Lomond, there is no shortage of community spirit – and no lack of people willing to lend a hand to ensure no-one goes without the help they need to get through the pandemic.

Almost a hundred elderly or vulnerable people living in Arrochar, Succoth and Tarbet are now receiving ‘meal drops’ of soup, sandwiches and cakes, while they are also benefitting from the services of a team of volunteers doing shopping, collecting prescriptions, posting letters or just knocking on doors to make sure those who have no choice but to stay at home are coping through the lockdown.

The Arrochar-Succoth-Tarbet Areas Community Support Network was born out of an online support group set up by Succoth resident Ayron Becherston in the first few days of the pandemic – and, as with communities across Helensburgh and Lomond and throughout the UK, it quickly grew arms and legs.

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Fiona Paterson, who lives in Ardgartan, then set up a local telephone support line, linked to an initial group of nine volunteers, to respond to requests for help.

Fiona drew on her experience of two years running the Generation Communities project, which has brought together some of the area’s older residents with pupils from Arrochar Primary School to share experiences, memories and activities – but which has also been put on hold for the duration of the lockdown.

From there, hotel managers, cafe operators and business owners in the area came forward to offer surplus supplies to those in need; the Arrochar and Tarbet Community Development Trust secured funding to set up a meal drop initiative; and Fiona’s husband Iain, one of the area’s Argyll and Bute councillors, secured the agreement of Forestry and Land Scotland for the temporary use of the former visitor centre at Ardgartan as a management and distribution hub for the meals.

Taking up the story, Fiona explained: “Local volunteers collect the bags and distribute to, at present, 92 residents within the three villages of Arrochar, Succoth and Tarbet, observing social distancing guidelines.

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“Our oldest recipient is 97 years young!

“To add to the bags, children from Arrochar Primary School have made pictures, rainbows, and written poems; alongside other residents who have compiled word-search puzzles – all to bring a smile to those isolated at home.

“Communication between all ages then continues with recipients calling the young villagers or writing letters of thanks back.

“Staying in touch with people this way is so important, and the paintings and pictures adorn many village porches and windows, which is really lovely for all to see.”

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Funding for the meal drop initiative was secured by the Community Development Trust, who applied to the Hannah Stirling Loch Lomond Charitable Trust, the National Lottery and the SSEN electricity company, as well as from individual donations.

“If anyone knows of someone who would benefit from Arrochar-Succoth-Tarbet community support, please do get in touch.

“The support line number is 01301 470047. Anyone who is elderly, vulnerable, isolating or shielding can call to request assistance with shopping, collections of prescriptions, posting of letters, or simply just a ‘check and chat’.

“A huge thank you to all the volunteers who have been working together to help out within our small community – especially the children who have got involved.”

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The volunteers involved in the community meal drop include Melanie Tonks, who runs the Three Villages Cafe and prepares weekly food supplies for those who are self-isolating, as well as Carol Murray, Karen Fraser , Linda Hetherington, Ann Huggans , Ellen Greenwood , David Stone, Raymond Mundie, Michelle Mundie, Andy Kerr, Maggie Kinvig, Eileen Kay, Janice Campbell, Iain Campbell, Natalie Martin, Ali Campbell, Phil Startin, Vivienne Robertson, Rebecca Robertson, Bert Robertson, Darren Davies, Gayle Morton-Grant, Linda Carmichael, Cate Thompson, Colleen Batey, Laura King, Mary Ann McFadyen, Mhairi Cadie, Stuart James and Lucy Topalin.

Donations of surplus supplies were offered by Hamish Mackinnon from the Arrochar Hotel, Robert McEwan, Vivienne McTavish from the Arrochar Kitchen Garden, and Rachael from Vanilla Rose and the Perch Café.

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