A HELENSBURGH support group opened its doors on December 25 to ensure local people struggling with their mental health didn’t spend Christmas Day alone.

And its founder says that we all must learn the importance of not taking the little things for granted following a festive season of celebrations tempered by Covid restrictions.

Males Tales volunteers gathered at the Drumfork Community Centre for a few hours to offer good food and company to anyone in need, and despite a late change in guidelines dissuading many from joining in, five people turned up.

John Lewis, who established the organisation last year, said it was a worthwhile event and one which reminded him and others of the value of what they have.

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He said: “During the week we had loads of people saying they were going to come up, both volunteers and others just to see what it’s all about, but the change in the Covid rules put a lot of people off at the last minute.

“It definitely stopped it being the event it could’ve been, but there’s nothing we could do about that.

“The original idea was that it wasn’t just going to be a peer support thing, it was for anybody who was on their own, anybody at all who was struggling, not just males.

“It’s been the case since March and April that people have been reminded how important family and friends are.”

With plans for a larger gathering stymied at the eleventh hour, left-over food for the day – supplied by armed forces charity SSAFA and the Drumfork Centre – was donated to a care home in Garelochhead.

For those who did attend, the session provided a vital source of comfort.

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John said: “Because this is an armed forces area there’s a lot of people living on their own during Christmas, and with Christmas being the time of year with the highest suicide levels under normal circumstances, we just wanted to put something on so that everybody knew there was a place to go, someone to talk to and a bit of food if they were struggling on their own.

“The majority of people look forward to Christmas, probably 90-95 per cent of the country, but there’s that small percentage that don’t.

“And it’s not just because they’re on their own on Christmas Day or they’ve had a bad event on Christmas Day. They could have lost a family member in March or April, but it’s because they’re not there for Christmas.

“Christmas is a time for reflecting, both positive and negative, and the negative can obviously have a huge impact.

“While the majority of people look forward to it there always will be people who absolutely dread it for a numerous amount of reasons.

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“It’s the time of year when everybody is meant to be together and everybody is meant to be happy, and sometimes that’s what makes people unhappy because people are forcing them, saying ‘why aren’t you enjoying it?’

“Some people just don’t want to. Some people just don’t like Christmas. It’s as simple as that.

“A lot of people’s negativity can come from other people saying to them ‘look, you should be enjoying yourself’.”

Ahead of the resumption of usual meetings on January 11, John said he hopes the Christmas Day gathering can become an annual community event involving other local groups.

And he also pointed to some positives as a tumultuous 2020 reaches its conclusion.

He added: “A lot of the things people thought they needed were already there – they just didn’t realise it, myself included.

“There’s a lot of things we all took for granted that this year we now know are important.

“Everybody likes to have a good support network around them and a lot of people have realised what they’ve got rather than what they could have.”

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