AN Inverclyde school has become the first in Scotland to receive the group equivalent of an MBE.

The prestigious Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service has been awarded to St Columba’s School in Kilmacolm in recognition of their Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Expedition programme which is run by volunteers.

To celebrate the occasion, local dignitaries joined staff, pupils, parents and volunteers for a ceremony at St Columba’s Church in the village.

Guy Clark, Lord-Lieutenant of Renfrewshire, presented the Queen’s Award to the school.

He said: “This award adds yet another mark of excellence and achievement on the wide landscape of success for which the name St Columba’s School has become known.”

It was back in 1961 when the school first started the programme and after a brief gap it was re-introduced in 1985 by the former head of outdoor education, Carole Marr, whose commitment and service to the award, both in school and nationally, led to her appointment as MBE in 2005. 

Today, the in-house initiative is led by Gordon McConnell and offers the pupils Bronze, Silver and Gold levels.

Volunteers from across the St Columba’s School community — including former pupils, ex-staff, current staff and parents of former and current pupils - give up their time to take pupils on expeditions.

Andrea Angus, the school’s new rector, says she takes her hat off to all the hard-working volunteers who devote their time to helping the youngsters.

She said: “St Columba’s would not be able to run the Duke of Edinburgh without the great number of volunteers who give so freely of their time — some amounting to 25 years’ service to the school.  

“We are exceptionally fortunate to have such a dedicated, committed and experienced group of volunteers who ensure that the highest standards of training and supervision on the hills is enjoyed by our young people. 

“The life skills developed are invaluable to our pupils’ education.”

Dr Judy Semple, a volunteer supervisor and trainer, said she gets great joy in helping young people fulfil their potential.

She said: “I have seen hundreds of splendid young people achieve things that many of them didn’t think were possible. 

“For me, that is what it is all about and why I am delighted to continue to be part of the St Columba’s Duke of Edinburgh team.”

Barry Fisher, the director of the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award said the royal honour was ‘another first for St Columba’s’. 

He added: “It’s nice that this has been recognised with a national honour to such a humble group of people who have poured in thousands of hours to the school and wider community.”