A good deed done nearly 30 years ago has inspired young people in Helensburgh and Lomond to reach out and offer a helping hand to people in the area.

The Garelochhead-based Route 81 youth project launched the ‘Bottles of Hope’ project over the festive season – and those involved received certificates as a lasting memento of their efforts at a ceremony on February 18.

The project was born out of Route 81 youth worker Michelle Macdonald sharing a story during a meeting of the project’s youth team about someone who reached out to help her 29 years ago.

Michelle said: “During a challenging and traumatic time in my life, a beautiful Christmas cake was unexpectedly brought to my door, donated by a caring individual from Garelochhead Church who had requested it be given to someone deserving.

“I was chosen. This thoughtful and meaningful gift had such a positive effect on my mental health and wellbeing that I never forgot it.”

Helensburgh Advertiser: Senior volunteer Paige presenting the bottleSenior volunteer Paige presenting the bottle

That led the project’s youth team to draw up a four-week programme focussing on promoting positive mental health, based around the act of giving and receiving, using games, a ‘chit chat’ slot and creative arts to do so.

The main focus of the project was the creation of more than 40 ‘Bottles of Hope’, decorated by Route 81’s young people on the outside using a variety of artistic techniques.

Fairy lights were put inside and a tag put over the neck of the bottle with a poem written by a member of the local community.

“A bottle of hope we’ve made for you; A twinkling beacon to see you through

“The long dark nights – but never wonder; our light of hope shines all through summer.

“It brings us joy and helps us see. the future’s bright for you and me.”

The young people involved nominated those in the area they thought deserved a Bottle of Hope, with deliveries made to the recipients during December, January and February.

One of the recipients, Janette Maxwell, said: “I was a little emotional and honoured to receive my Bottle of Hope.”

Also receiving Bottles of Hope were members of NHS Highland’s Covid vaccination team, who were surprised and delighted to receive their gifts while they were carrying out a vaccination clinic at Centre 81.

Helensburgh Advertiser: The participants with their certificatesThe participants with their certificates

Planning the project and creating and delivering the bottles involved 180 hours of volunteering by the young people involved.

One of the participants, in the evaluation form filled out by each young volunteer at the end of the project, wrote: “The local Vaccination Team who have been working so hard to keep us all safe from Covid-19 were also surprised and delighted to receive their bottles whilst carrying out a clinic at Centre 81.

A highlight of every Friday night was the appearance of Ziggy the Zebra, the Centre 81 Mascot. As soon as the song ‘I feel good’ blasted, Ziggy would appear and dance his way around the hall giving out a selection of gifts every week.

Over 180 hours of volunteering by the young people has taken place planning and creating the Bottles of Hope and in the process ALL participants said that their teamwork had improved they had gained new skills, discovered new things and felt great by taking part!One of the young people wrote on their evaluation form at the end of the project ‘I felt great knowing that I had done something good.

“I loved doing the Bottles of Hope knowing that they go out to our community.

“Now that the project is over I am a bit sad, but I will 100 per cent come to other Route 81 activities!”

Another young person added: “I enjoyed Bottles of Hope because I got to be ‘arty’ and it got me out my room and talking to other people my age(ish) .

“I felt happy receiving my volunteer certificate and I am excited for the next Route 81 activity.”

Helensburgh Advertiser: The senior volunteers who planned the projectThe senior volunteers who planned the project

The project was funded by The Art Society Lomond and Argyll (TASLA) and was enabled by further core funding from the Gannochy Trust, Young Start Lottery Fund, Co-op Community Fund and Argyll and Bute Council’s Supporting Communities Fund.

Olivia Birch, Roo Irvine and Anne Bernard from the TASLA committee came to the project’s final session on February 18 and as well as presenting the young people with their participation certificates, surprised them with a further donation of £250 to help fund other Route 81 projects during the rest of 2022.

Olivia said: “The evening was great fun, and good to see the young people enjoying themselves, and working well together to undertake volunteering projects to benefit both themselves and others.

“The Bottles of Hope project is an excellent example. Keep up the good work.”

Roo added: “We had the loveliest evening. The fantastic work Route 81 has been doing for so many years, shows in the faces of all the children.

“Route 81 truly is a lifeline and a guiding path for the future of all the kids – a very happy, kind bunch.

“It was also nice to shed ‘adulting’ for one evening and muck in with the games – the hospitality was much appreciated!”

Anne said- It really is good to see the youngsters gathering together chatting, playing, creating and I am sure making friends with all ages. It is encouraging to see them take part in the projects you give them while having fun at the same time.

Thank you to yourself and the volunteer/helpers who are all doing such good work interacting with the youth and encouraging them by your own volunteer work.

Thank you for the gift of the lit bottle, it will certainly be on display for the members to see when we meet up face to face.