TRUSTEES of a volunteer group set up to save a Helensburgh park from terminal decline have decided to disband the charity after a decade of work in the community - saying their offers of help and expertise have been “stonewalled” by Argyll and Bute Council.

Members of the Friends of Hermitage Park Association agreed at the organisation’s AGM in December to wind up their operations, which have been ongoing in the town since 2011.

According to the group’s final chair, the trustees realised their “time was up” after being told that “what happens in the park is nothing to do with the Friends and none of your business”.

The Friends helped to transform the green space by leading a multi-million-pound regeneration project which included the construction of a new pavilion, the restoration of the A-listed war memorial and the upgrading of shrubs, flower beds and paths.

The Advertiser reported in November, ahead of the AGM, that the Friends were seeking new members with the current trustees – treasurer Brian Kyle, secretary Alison Holliman, Jean Walker and Fiona Baker – set to retire.

Ms Baker, who has been chair of the Friends since 2016, said the group had come to the realisation that their time was up, having seen their efforts “stonewalled” in recent years.

READ MORE: New volunteers sought to help Helensburgh charity take next steps

She said: “It has not been an easy journey for the Friends to reach the conclusion that we are no longer able to contribute to the development of the park in a useful or positive way.

“It is a matter of great sadness to the Friends that we are no longer afforded the capacity to be the link between the community and the park management.

“We strongly believe that for Hermitage Park to thrive and be truly sustainable full community engagement and participation is necessary.

“The Friends have worked hard, and with dedication, for a decade to ensure Hermitage Park was saved from neglect, and was refurbished and regenerated to become the wonderful community asset it is today.

“The Friends do not have any influence on the maintenance standards at the park and we, like many others in the town who contact us to complain, are sorely disappointed, and of course frustrated, that we can do nothing about it.

“Our efforts to improve horticultural and maintenance standards, engage community partners and deliver activities and events are stonewalled, now that all the serious construction work has been completed.

Helensburgh Advertiser: Chris Packard cuts the first sod of turf to mark the start of Hermitage Park's regenerationChris Packard cuts the first sod of turf to mark the start of Hermitage Park's regeneration

“The last two years have been incredibly frustrating, compounded by the pandemic, but when we were told last year by park staff that ‘what happens in the park is nothing to do with the Friends and none of your business’, it was really the last straw.”

Having become a registered charity in 2012, the Friends secured £190,000 in funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund two years later to develop a masterplan and fully costed project design for the refurbishment of the park.

An award of £2.33 million followed and the physical work to restore the park started in February 2017.

The refurbishment project, including construction of the pavilion, the first commercial Passivhaus building in Scotland, attracted overall grant funding of £3.7 million and all works were formally signed off by Argyll and Bute Council as completed in mid-2021.

With around 200 members, the Friends have donated more than £140,000 worth of volunteer hours to the refurbishment project since 2017.

More than £20,000 is still earmarked for various projects in the park, many of which have to be delivered by the council.

In October the park was awarded Green Flag status by environmental charity Keep Scotland Beautiful for the second consecutive year - and Fiona said the Friends’ achievements are there for all to see.

READ MORE: Hermitage Park 'a credit to Helensburgh' as council leader welcomes Green Flag Award

She added: “The Friends have done what we set out to do and Hermitage Park is now a wonderful space that is enjoyed by people of all ages and abilities.

“We have met the objectives of our constitution and, faced with the clear message that our assistance is no longer welcome, we feel the best thing to do is to conclude it is mission accomplished.

“We do hope community groups will make full use of the park and volunteers will continue to help with the enormous amount of gardening work that is required.

“We hope that the park will not be allowed to slide back to the unkempt and neglected state it was in 10 years ago.

“However, the Friends have done all we can and I think we can walk away with our heads held high in the knowledge that community effort did save Hermitage Park and bring it back from the brink.

“The Friends are enormously grateful and wish to thank the community for the unstinting support, encouragement, donations and general goodwill that we have enjoyed throughout the process.”

Helensburgh Advertiser: The Friends held regular volunteer sessions throughout the park's regeneration as part of the partnership with Argyll and Bute CouncilThe Friends held regular volunteer sessions throughout the park's regeneration as part of the partnership with Argyll and Bute Council

Paying tribute on social media, Gillian Simpson said: “This project has been a huge success and I can well imagine the many hours of blood, sweat and tears that everyone involved has put in.

“It is very much appreciated and you have created a wonderful place for Helensburgh.”

Jayne Burnett said: “A huge thank you to the Friends for their tenacious commitment in making Helensburgh better for everyone - the park has become a fantastic landmark once more.

“Let’s hope Argyll and Bute Council will raise their game and now ensure that the efforts of the Friends do not go to waste!”

Sarah Davies added: “Thanks for everything, let’s hope it is maintained for a place for all to enjoy. It has been a lifesaver during the pandemic. The children love it. You are all Helensburgh heroes.”

Argyll and Bute Council said it was “disappointed and saddened” by the Friends’ decision.

Helensburgh Advertiser: The Park Pavilion opened last summerThe Park Pavilion opened last summer

A spokesperson said: “They have played a pivotal role in the transformation of the park having campaigned and fund-raised to create this incredible community asset for Helensburgh.

“We thank them for all their hard work and dedication.

“There has been significant progress over the years. The restored war memorial, the highly popular play park, new park pavilion and café are all part of the park’s transformation along with new seating areas and planting. The park has achieved international Green Flag status for two years running with judges praising high maintenance, cleanliness and horticulture standards.

“There is no doubt that the pandemic has had an impact. National restrictions, furloughed contractors and redeployed staff have meant that planned work and events could not go ahead.

“Throughout this time, the park has provided a safe outdoor space for many people to enjoy and it will remain open as a public park.

“The easing of restrictions now means we can look forward to an exciting year for the park. The Hermitage Park activity plan will launch with a wide range of learning opportunities from comic book art to bike maintenance.

“Work will also complete on the new volunteer bothy which will provide a base for learning groups.

“If you would like to be involved in the park, we would love to hear from you.”