The fizz is out, the table is decked with colourful balloons and the tunes are playing – it’s party time for an award-winning voluntary group.

There’s much cause for celebration at Dumbarton and District MS Group’s first drop-in meet up since they reeled in a big win at the Provost’s Civic Awards last month.

The group, which has been on the go for nearly 50 years, has been crowned this year’s community/voluntary team champion.

Providing a supportive community for those of any age living with or affected by multiple sclerosis in West Dunbartonshire and Helensburgh, a fortnightly drop-in, shiatsu and exercise sessions, lunch club and organised trips and activities are all in the group’s offering.

And with an overwhelming aura of friendliness, warmth and laughter palpable as soon as the Reporter attends the meet-up at Helensburgh and Lomond Civic Centre, it’s easy to see why they have bagged the title.

“Everyone here is so nice and so lovely. You can’t be depressed with this lot,” group member of six years Jenny O’Neill, 45, tells the Reporter last Wednesday.

“I’ve been blinded twice by my MS,” she adds. “Once for two weeks, and the second time for two months. The group lifts you up. It’s company and it’s so much fun.”

And the strength of community is something that all members are eager to praise.

Louise Smart was diagnosed with MS by her optician when she was 51 after years of not knowing she had the condition.

Now, a group member of five years, she has struck up a great friendship with Jenny, and the pair often meet in their free time for lunch and go shopping in addition to Dumbarton and District MS Group activities.

“At the group we don’t talk about treatments and illness,” Louise, from Helensburgh, explains.

“When I first came to the group I thought, why’s nobody talking about what’s happening? But that’s not the important bit at the end of the day. We make fun of everything.

“We’re very lucky be involved because it was a Dumbarton-based group. It’s a great community.

“We get out and take part in activities, we’re out and about instead of being inside watching telly.

“The team are in contact with the MS Society on our behalf too, that’s really important.

“I think there are a lot of people in the area behind closed doors stuck with MS. We at the group are just a fraction. People should come along.”

Wednesday’s honour of cutting the party cake fell to new member Alison Gordon and her brother Steven Singleton, who both have the condition.

Alison, 55, has only just moved up to the area in June this year from the Cotswolds after her MS left her unable to get around her home.

“The group I went to down south was very positive; it was hard to leave them,” she explains.

“But now I can get out the house, and they are really, really friendly and helpful here.”

Brother Steven, 60, adds: “I’ve been coming here for years. It’s about getting to talk to each other.

“I’d say to anyone in the area with MS that there’s no pressure to do anything here, just come along and have a laugh.”

Whether member, committee member or volunteer, everyone has their own unique story about how they came to be involved.

Committee member Jennifer Coyle has turned her whole perspective on life around after initially feeling devastated by her diagnosis – with the perseverance of her husband finally bringing her into the group.

“I was diagnosed in 2000, I never knew what MS was,” Jennifer says.

“When I was told I had it I just stayed in the house, I never wanted to go out. I just wanted to bottle it up.

“But my husband went to the group on my behalf and said he would keep going until I went. When he died, my family told me I should go along. He had gone and stood for me.

“It was a big, big thing for me. I was so depressed.

“MS affects everyone differently, but we still have a ball. We are all so alike, but we’re all so different.”

Keeping a steady stream of sandwiches and drinks top-ups coming, Margaret MacLeod, 78, from Balloch, has been volunteering with the group for 30 years.

She humbly explains that she first got involved when she heard about a friend from church helping out.

She says: “I attend anything we’ve got on, I just help where I can. I like helping. We all get on so well.”

Gordon Renwick, 66, has been on the group’s committee for the last four years, and got involved as his wife, Ann, has MS and is a member of the group.

He adds: “It’s about getting to meet lots of people. Everyone has good days and bad days. But there’s a real bond.

“We get out for activities, we’re going to a Christmas show in December.

“The award was unexpected, but I must admit I was very, very pleased.”

And for group treasurer Andrew Rankin, 76, who was diagnosed with MS in later life, the fact that “everyone’s quite happy, cracking jokes and telling stories” is a real draw for the Balloch man.

At the heart of Dumbarton and District MS Group is also an extremely strong family bond. Secretary Robert Donald followed wife Mary, who has MS, into the group – then encouraging Sheena Rollo, Mary’s sister, to get involved.

Sheena, who has now been chair for 10 years, smiles as she explains she’s “never looked back” since she joined.

The 2012 citizen of the year is keen to reach out to those living with MS in the area who are struggling and perhaps still apprehensive about coming along to such a group.

And with provided transport also an option to get to the sessions, Sheena is keen to welcome more members to their “thriving” community.

“There is life after an MS diagnosis,” Sheena says.

“After that diagnosis you’re maybe feeling that you’ve had the worst news you’re ever going to get.

“It’s not a nice illness. But the group has the resolve for everyone to enjoy themselves.

“Some of the group are even more active than before they were diagnosed. My sister Mary has MS and goes sailing.

“It’s all about empowering people. They are doing amazing things, and we are so proud of them for doing it as well.”