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Highland volunteer with Leonard Cheshire takes on loneliness during pandemic with digital Zoom chats

By Philip Murray

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Margaret Patterson (top left) and others have been taking part in regular Zoom sessions.
Margaret Patterson (top left) and others have been taking part in regular Zoom sessions.

A BEFRIENDER in the Highlands is helping to tackle loneliness all across Scotland after volunteering to keep people connected digitally during the pandemic.

Retiree Margaret Patterson, from Nairn, began volunteering with disability charity Leonard Cheshire in 2019, where she offered in-person support to residents of the Cheshire House social care service in Inverness.

But her role, helping

residents explore new activities in the community and online, was interrupted by the Covid-19 crisis. The move into lockdown saw her focus shift towards helping people access

and upskill in digital

technology so that they can stay connected and avoid slipping into social isolation.

Since then her role as a “digital buddy” has seen her build a rapport with the likes of 81-year-old Stranraer man Andrew Ross, who had felt like his “world was closing in” on him during lockdown.

He participated in one of the disability charity’s digital inclusion programmes to receive an iPad and digital support. The 260-mile distance separating Margaret and Andrew did not prevent him learning everything he could about technology to ease any social isolation. With the assistance of Margaret, he now feels like his world is opening up again.

Margaret said: “Andrew is in the Zoom waiting room up to 10 minutes before each session starts because he’s so eager to learn something new.

“From a volunteering perspective, it is really satisfying that you can give somebody a new lease of life with the use of technology.”

Andrew uses the iPad to browse social media, stay in touch with friends, take photos of his garden, and digitise family photos.

He said: “I realised my world was getting smaller, and I needed to take care of my mental health. Being back in contact with friends has made all the difference.”

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