A team of seven Renfrewshire Council employees have returned from a life-changing volunteering trip to South Africa to build houses. The project they worked...

A team of seven Renfrewshire Council employees have returned from a life-changing volunteering trip to South Africa to build houses.

The project they worked on, with the charity Habitat for Humanity, was an 80-hectare site in Pelican Park, in what will be Cape Town’s biggest, and first fully integrated, housing project.

The 3,200 house development is the largest in the Western Cape, where families from different income levels will be living together in one settlement.

The team was made up of employees from different council departments including social work, communications and community resources.

Gail McMillan, a graphic designer with the council who went on the trip, said: “We were involved in all sorts of building tasks: mixing mortar, moving bricks and other building materials, bagging and pointing and generally helping the professional builders with whatever they needed.

“We were working alongside lots of other volunteers from around the UK as well as Habitat for Humanity team leaders and professional builders. We initially worked on a block of four houses but we finished that ahead of target and managed to make a start on another block of four. We got to meet the future homeowners as well as people who had already moved in to other houses built by other teams and it was great to see the huge difference we were making to families’ lives.”

Nearly nine million South Africans live in inadequate housing in vast informal townships where residents often live in overcrowded shacks pieced together with cardboard, corrugated iron, scraps of wood and plastic.

Before starting on the build, the team visited the township of Langa where they met children from the ‘Happy Feet Youth Project’ which provides a safe after school environment for the children and promotes youth development through sport and dance, as well as support of basic needs.

As well as taking part in the build the team got the opportunity to take in some of the beautiful surroundings of Cape Town on their free days, including Boulders Beach to the African penguins, the Cape of Good Hope, Cape Point and a very moving visit to Robben Island where Nelson Mandela and other political prisoners were held before the fall of apartheid.

Gail said: “The best bit of the build was feeling like you were really helping people and there was a great camaraderie with everyone else on site because everyone was really committed to working hard and getting as much done on the build as we could. Everyone was in great spirits and we had great fun and laughed lots despite our aching muscles!

“It was very a very humbling and rewarding experience. I’d love to do more volunteering, both locally and internationally, and if I got the chance I’d do it all again.”

Team Renfrewshire’s trip was part of Renfrewshire Council’s Employee Volunteering Scheme.