Presiding Officer Alex Fergusson MSP today saw first hand how two voluntary sector projects are helping to make a real difference to the lives of vulnerable young people in south west Scotland.
Mr Fergusson joined a team of young people from two organisations - Dumfries and Galloway Befriending Project and Dumfries and Galloway Young Carers Project - at Kirroughtree Forest Park, near Newton Stewart.
The Presiding Officer worked alongside the young people, and some adult volunteer befrienders, building dens, under the tutelage of Recreation Ranger Lucy Hadley.
Dumfries and Galloway Befriending Project recruits, trains and supports volunteer adult befrienders who are matched one-to-one with young people, aged between eight and 18, who may be experiencing difficulties at home, in school or in their community.
They meet on regular basis to build up a trusting friendship and take part in community-based activities.
The friendship offered by a volunteer befriender can make a positive and lasting impact and supports young people through difficult times. It also introduces them to new social experiences and activities and helps build self-confidence.
The Presiding Officer said: “Some of the youngsters who take part in this initiative have come from very difficult backgrounds and these kind-hearted and generous volunteers quite simply help turn many of their lives around.
“It has been most interesting hearing how so many befrienders have helped youngsters tackle their difficulties or help them find better ways of coping with issues that are affecting their young lives.”
Dumfries and Galloway Young Carers Project supports carers aged between seven and 18 who care for a family member affected by a long-term illness, mental health problem, drug or alcohol misuse or a physical or learning disability.
It offers young people the opportunity to meet with a support worker on a one-to-one basis and attend group meetings where they can meet other young carers and take part in new activities and build on trust and confidence.
The Presiding Officer later met adult carers who are supported by the Princess Royal Trust for Carers.
Keith Muir, Head of Tourism for Galloway Forest District, said: “Forestry Commission Scotland is delighted to play host on a regular basis to many different organisations from the voluntary sector.”
Mr Fergusson was later given a tour of the new Robert Burns Birthplace Museum site in Alloway, Ayr , which is due completion in summer of 2010.
The museum will house more than 5,000 items from the most important Burns collection in the world and will continue to spread the word about Burns, his life and work, educating and inspiring visitors for generations to come.
Nat Edwards, Director of the new Robert Burns Birthplace Museum, who met Mr Fergusson, said: “The museum is going to be a truly amazing space that will appeal to Burns fans of all ages and from all walks of life.
“We're bringing back together the biggest and most important collection of Burns artefacts and manuscripts in Alloway, within the landscape that inspired him. As well as tourists it will bring writers, poets, musicians to the area.”
The Presiding Officer’s visits are part of his summer programme of visits to engage with communities across Scotland to promote the 10 th anniversary of the Scottish Parliament.