SCHOOLGIRLS in Winchester have been helping young women in Africa with a creative new project.

Since July 2013 members of Soroptimist International for Winchester and Districts, have been busy making 136 dresses for their sister club SI Banjul in The Gambia.

The club runs a number of projects with young women and girls in the rural areas of this poor part of West Africa, where the dresses will be distributed to deserving girls who may not own a dress other than their school uniform.

Working on the premise that ‘every girl deserves a dress’, girls from Test Valley, Henry Beaufort and St Swithun’s schools, as well as local Girl Guides and Rangers, created the dresses which are made of recycled pillowcases.

On March 24 the society held a celebration ahead of the dresses being shipped to recognise the girls’ hard work, and heard from similar projects in The Gambia.

Anne Hill, a textiles teacher at Henry Beaufort School said 35 of her Year 10 students were involved.

“I thought it was wonderful,” she said.

“It fitted in very nicely with their recycling project and they enjoyed making them knowing that they would make a difference to other people’s lives.”

The project also taught the girls a thing or two about needlework, and Test Valley schoolteacher Carol Hudson said: “This kind of project is a good way of teaching some life skills, rather than doing things for selfish reasons.”

The dresses will be shipped imminently and organisers say the project exceeded their expectations, with 36 more dresses made than planned and positive responses from participants.

They plan to hold the event as a competition next year, with awards for the best dresses.