GLASGOW’S queen of comedy and a well-known actor walked into a Paisley office …

It sounds like the start of a joke, but TV and stage stars Elaine C Smith and Gary Hollywood turning up at the Comedy and Confidence Open Day marked an exciting new beginning for the award-winning business.

Smith and Hollywood were guests of honour at the event, inside the company’s new premises at Storage Vault Workspace’s East Wing facility in Macdowall Street.

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Course manager Callum Pash said: “It was a fantastic day, and to have Elaine and Gary there supporting us was amazing.

“It’s a really exciting time for us – we have rebranded, we have launched two new qualifications and moved into a new home, with a new team.

“The space means we can launch our new creative academy.”

Gary Hollywood, who is best known for Mrs Brown’s Boys and a string of stage and screen appearances, said: “Comedy and Confidence is a great organisation, giving fantastic support for young people from a range of backgrounds – it treats everyone as equals, and gives them the confidence they need to get on in life.”

He added: “I grew up in Pollok, in a working-class family, and I wish we had had organisations like this back then.

“Being involved in comedy, such as Mrs Brown’s Boys, has helped me through some rough times in my own life, so I know how powerful it can be.”

Comedy and Confidence, formerly Direct Devitt, was set up by entrepreneur Anna Devitt, who wanted to use comedy as a vehicle to improve the self-esteem of disadvantaged young people, giving them an SQA qualification in the process.

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Devitt’s inspiration came from her own life. Growing up in Glasgow, she suffered from mental health issues following the death of her father, and she was expelled from three schools.

“It was pretty tough, but my mum did everything to help me straighten things out, and she put me into acting classes to try to rebuild my confidence,” she explained.

“That led to me becoming a fairly successful stand-up comedian and that really helped me. It was a kind of therapy for me and really built up my resilience.”

“I even went on Britain’s Got Talent as a ‘singing belly’ – and if you’d told me five years ago I’d be doing that, I would never have believed it.”

Devitt, who lives in Renfrew, contacted the Scottish Qualifications Authority about an idea to use comedy to help others and they supported her over the next two years, as she developed her Confidence Through Comedy course.

The programme uses teamwork, body language, vocal training and other tools to help young people flourish. It is now being delivered by several local authorities across Scotland, including Renfrewshire, Falkirk and Argyll and Bute.

In November 2016, less than a year after launch, Devitt won Renfrewshire Chamber of Commerce’s Enterprise and Education Award, part of the Scottish EDGE fund run by Scots entrepreneur Sir Tom Hunter. This led to £10,000 from the Big Lottery, which has allowed Anna to bring in a team of staff.

Alongside the original Level 5 and 6 qualifications, the company now offers Level 3 and 4, reaching even more young people.

What Devitt is most proud of, however, is the fact that all of the young people who have completed the course have gone on to further education or employment.

“It’s not easy to change a young person’s mindset, when they have obstacles in their path and no confidence, but it is possible,” she said.

“I’d love to see the school curriculum changed to help make that happen for more young people. I want this in all schools. This is just the warm-up stage for us, we have lots of plans for the future.”

She added: “We have to get away from the old-fashioned factory-worker style of education that just doesn’t work for many young people nowadays.

“Having supporters like Elaine and Gary along to our launch event is amazing, as it shows we are getting it right and I’m really proud of that.”