PANDEMIC heroes from a Greenock community project have been hailed by Deputy First Minister John Swinney for playing a 'critical' role during the coronavirus crisis.

Belville Community Garden Trust was right at the core of the Covid-19 relief effort in the area.

Over the pandemic, staff and volunteers made up and sent out around 4,500 food parcels for vulnerable people across Inverclyde.

The project also supported the community by allowing a range of groups to use their facilities.

Scottish Government number two Mr Swinney visited the project after an invitation from local MSP Stuart McMillan and paid tribute to the hard work of everyone involved.

After receiving a tour of the garden from manager Sally Clough, he highlighted the social and environmental good that Belville's efforts bring.

Mr Swinney told the Tele: "Belville played a critical role in the Covid response at the height of the challenges that we faced.

"What's been very apparent to me in hearing about all the good work that's been undertaken is that it is reaching people who might find it difficult to reach other aspects of employment and engagement within society.

"As a consequence it is involving those people in society, with a huge positive benefit in that for those individuals and for the community."

Mr Swinney, who is also the cabinet secretary for Covid recovery, emphasised the 'central' part organisations like Belville have in ensuring that Inverclyde bounces back strongly from the pandemic.

MSP Mr McMillan echoed Mr Swinney's praise of the project.

He said: “Belville Community Gardens were at the heart of our community's response to Covid and will play a key role in our recovery.

"Sally and her team of staff and volunteers made the cabinet secretary and I feel really welcome and I know he was really impressed with what he heard and saw.

"We are extremely lucky to have such a brilliant group of people working right here on our doorstep.”

Mr Swinney was also shown the site where Belville are planning to build an outdoor classroom for local youngsters, which was funded with £38,575 from the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations' Communities Recovery Fund.

Belville boss Sally says the project will now focus on working with people to find routes out of poverty and provide regeneration after the virus crisis.

She said: "It's about the community and the people in it - we need to listen to the people instead of trying to impose top-down solutions onto our communities."