THE hair is freshly brushed, the white jumper neat and smart, and the smile just a wee bit nervous.

Elsie Mackie was six years old when this photo was taken in 1971, as an ‘introduction’ photo for host families on Glasgow Children’s Holiday Scheme.

“I remember Norah Trundle from the scheme coming out to do the picture, so I could go on holiday,” recalls Elsie with a smile. “And I got to go to Islay, where I saw wide open spaces, the sheep and the sea, and to the Isle of Man, where I built a sandcastle…”

For more than 60 years, GCHS has organised holidays for thousands of disadvantaged children. To commemorate its 60th anniversary, the “wee charity with a big heart” has published Making Memories, a colourful, cheerful book about families and friendship, adventure and hope.

GCHS began in the mid-1950s, when community worker Lilias Graham moved in to the Gorbals.

English-born and well-to-do, Lilias was appointed to her role by the Scottish Episcopal Church, who resisted her strong desire to live among the people she would support. The area was notorious, full of decaying tenements, extreme poverty and a community suffering the horrible effects of unemployment, crime and alcohol abuse.

Lilias got her way, however, and moved in to a flat on Abbotsford Place, which quickly became a drop-in centre complete with playroom, nursery and space for local women to meet and chat.

One day, Lilias mentioned she was going on holiday for a couple of weeks, prompting one of the young boys in the room to ask: “What’s a holiday, Miss?”

“The innocent question proved to be a turning point in Lilias’s life,” explains GCHS chairman John McDougall.

“It opened her eyes to a form of deprivation that had been overlooked – the need for children to have a break from their surroundings.”

Lilias had grown up on the family farm in Suffolk, and she knew that a local charity often paid for children from the London slums to have a break in the countryside. She contacted churches in rural locations, asking if they would find host families who could take a Gorbals child for a week or two during the summer holidays. The GCHS was born.

Over the years, the scheme has grown to offer static caravan breaks as well as volunteer host families, and activity breaks for youth groups. In 2018, still relying entirely on grant funding and donations, it gave 566 children a holiday.

But it is a sad and sobering fact, points out John McDougall, that the charity is needed just as much today as it was six decades ago.

“On May 2 last year, the Evening Times published an interview with a Glasgow headteacher who was shocked when a pupil asked her: “What is the sea, Miss?”” says John.

“It didn’t shock us. We continually hear of children who have never seen the sea, never been on a boat or a train, never been on holiday.

“With almost a third of children in Glasgow living in poverty, families face difficult choices every day when it comes to how they will spend their money. It’s hardly surprising a holiday is not a priority.”

For Elsie Mackie, growing up in the Gorbals, her first holidays with the scheme – to Stirlingshire with her mum, to give her “a wee break”, and to Islay and the Isle of Man - were magical, but it was her trips to Fortrose on the Black Isle which still have a special place in her heart.

“I stayed with Bunty Cameron and her family, at Tigh-na-rudha, Gaelic for ‘house on the point,” says Elsie. “I rode my bike, played rounders in the fields, swam in the sea. I loved spending my birthdays there, as Bunty would hold special tea parties for me and my friends.

“But those holidays also did so much for my self-confidence. I met new people, became more responsible. And Bunty became like a second mother to me.”

Elsie, who is now a store manager and treasurer of the Southern Necropolis Action Group in the Gorbals, smiles: “I continued to visit her long after my connection with the holiday scheme had ended. She died in 2013, but she’ll always be in my heart, and so will those happy holidays...”

Don’t miss day two of our GCHS celebration tomorrow.