A befrienders project has continued to provide vital support to older people throughout the pandemic.

The award-winning befrienders scheme - based at East Kilbride's Calderglen High - has been relying on phone calls over the last 18 months or so.

It sees senior pupils paired-up with senior citizens in the area to offer friendship, as well as at times, youngsters running errands, getting shopping and dropping it at older folks doors.

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Community stalwart Avril Anderson, who founded the scheme and runs it in partnership with the school and Claremont Church, hopes in person visits can resume soon, with phone calls continuing for now.

All seniors who go out to visits will be required to have a COVID jag.

Betty Waugh and befriender Robyn Bell

Avril told Lanarkshire Live : "We have been continuing with phone calls which have been a lifeline for older people and the teenagers get so much out of it too.

"We were even able to include two seniors living out with East Kilbride, which was great.

"Sadly, though, we lost two of our seniors, Betty McNeil and Betty Waugh who was paired with pupil, Robyn Bell.

"I want to praise their young befrienders on how compassionate and understanding they have been through such a difficult time for everyone."

Some of the pupils who were part of the befrienders scheme during the pandemic

Robyn told us : "The bond that was made between myself and Betty was very special and I will never forget this experience."

Betty Waugh's friend, Lynne Hislop, said Betty "eagerly looked forward to her wee chats" with, Robyn, especially during lockdown.

She added: "Her phone calls were making a difference and Betty was excited to have a new, young friend in her life at the age of 90 - even if it was by telephone.

"I do hope this vital work will continue and I am very grateful for Robyn being part of my friend's life in such a positive way."

Deputy head at Calderglen High, Fiona Murphy said: "The young people at Calderglen were not going to let a pandemic stop them taking part in this project.

"They were very clear that in the current climate their befriending was more important than ever.

"So the young people put their heads together to figure out a way the project could work.

"They decided to try a phone befriending project and this was suggested to Avril, who organised a number of seniors who were willing to give it a go.

"In some cases the weekly phone call has even progressed to a Facetime call with other family members getting involved.

"For the young people of Calderglen it has been so beneficial and with the rollout of the vaccination programme, we are all looking forward to a time, hopefully soon, when we can return to a more normal way of life and our befriending programme can return to normal."

Provost for South Lanarkshire, Ian McAllan, praised the initiative.

He said: "I am absolutely delighted to recognise the extraordinary impact Calderglen High School, in conjunction with Claremont Church, have had in their befrienders project over the last 11 years.

"Obviously, many of our older citizens have benefitted enormously, but we also have to acknowledge the young people who, as well as contributing so much, have also learnt, grown and developed in their interactions with the seniors."

And retired EK MSP, Linda Fabiani, added: "I have been following the work of Avril Anderson and the Calderglen befrienders for some years now. It benefits everyone involved and promotes real understanding of how we can all work together."

Christina McKelvie MSP, Minister for Equalities and Older People, has also praised the project applauding the "shared life experience and wisdom of generations coming together".

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