A COMMUNITY activist says she is 'heartbroken' after the shop she opened to help support people in desperate need was burnt down.

Heather Miller, from Larkfield, is devastated after Helping Hands - the community hub she opened in Kilblain Street two years ago - was gutted in a fire which started outside the premises in the early hours of Sunday.

But the 38-year-old is determined that the shop will rise from the ashes and reopen.

Heather told the Tele: "When I got down to the shop and saw the damage, I was a mess.

"I was heartbroken.

"I have built this up from nothing and it has helped hundreds of people who are struggling.

"After thinking about it I decided that I can come back from this.

"People will get behind me."

Heather says it appears that the fire started in a bin outside the back of the premises and quickly spread.

She said: "The fire brigade were called out at about 5am on Sunday morning.

"As far as I know, the fire started in a bin outside and spread to the roof and into the ceiling.

"So I've lost the roof and ceiling and the shop is destroyed."

Former charity shop manager Heather launched Helping Hands back in 2016 as she believed local people were ‘falling through the gaps’ of support agencies.

Since then she has been rushed off her feet with people looking for help.

One of her first initiatives was to team up with Inverclyde Foodbank to ensure that anyone with a referral would get what they need for free.

Heather, a mum-of-four, said: "It's a community shop providing pre-loved furniture for people in need.

"If people don't have any money they would get items for free.

"A lot of the money we get goes back into helping people that need it."

Heather says that the support she has received from her family, shop volunteers, shopping parade bosses, and the wider community has been a great source of comfort.

She added: "The Stewart Centre have been absolutely fantastic.

"Claire at Nanny's Kitchen has also been amazing, she has been providing us with free tea and coffee and has let us use her toilet as we don't have one at the moment.

"My family have also been brilliant, they were down here on Sunday with mops and buckets in the dark."

Despite the major setback, Heather remains positive about the massive task at hand.

She said: "We have lost everything.

"The smoke damage meant that all the clothes had to go and the furniture had to be dumped.

"But when life gives you lemons you make lemonade with it.

"This will not stop me - I will come back from this."

Heather hopes to get the shop up and running again as soon as she can.

She added: "Due to health and safety we can't let anyone in the shop at the moment but we are working with the Stewart Centre as well as with the fire brigade and police.

"As soon as we get the all clear we will re-build it."