A Highland befriending group will host a virtual get-together next week to help vulnerable people stay connected this Christmas.
Befriending Caithness came up with the event following the cancellation of numerous festive events, and hope it will raise spirits once more.
Befriendees and befrienders will chat over a cup of tea by phone or video call from 2pm on December 16 – and to ensure everyone takes part, the group is currently sending out Christmas cards with a tea bag inside.
Coordinator Angie House said: “Befriending Caithness changes peoples’ lives generally.
“We are so appreciate the volunteers who deliver this service for us and of course with Christmas coming up as well, there are lots of things we would do that we are not able to.
“On December 16 we are having a special time. We are encouraging people at 2pm to stop whatever they are doing, put the kettle on and have their cup of tea with the Christmas befriending tea bag as befrienders phone their befriendees at that time.
“For those that can access Zoom, we are sending out links to them all so that we can have a cup of tea together.
“Caithness is quite a vibrant area for groups for people to go to places so I think what people miss is just the communication and conversation with other people.”
The charity was forced to change their entire strategy following restrictions on face-to-face contact, immediately halting their face-to-face befriending sessions and moving to weekly phone calls, writing letters and doing regular video chats.
The Highland group have received 25 referrals in recent months, adding to their growing community comprising of 73 befriendees and 61 befrienders.
However, despite their best efforts Mrs House said she could see the real impact the impact has had on people, causing an increase in loneliness, isolation and a general lack of confidence.
“I think what people miss is the freedom of actually being able to go and meet with other people when they like and without any fear,” Mrs House said.
“There is a lot of anxiety with elderly people in our befriending who were frightened to let people in and I still think that is still there as well as a loss of a lot of confidence with not being able to go out.
“Connection is the most important thing and I think that’s what’s really important during this time.”
Volunteer says befriending leaves her smiling “inside and out”
Befriender Lynn Ross helps run the Thurso Befriending Group, and encouraged others to think about getting involved.
“I would recommend trying befriending to anyone,” Ms Ross said.
“I have been a few years now and have gained so much.
“I’ve made friends of all ages, skills and interests from training, meetings and enjoyed sharing the varied conversation and company of many.
“But most of all I love the happiness and benefits it brings to others. It really does leave me smiling on the inside and outside.”
Fellow volunteer Leisa Swanson said becoming a befriender has helped “enrich her life.”
“Befriending has the potential to brighten up someone’s day,” Ms Swanson said.
“You may be the only person they speak to so what a very lonely day it would otherwise be.
“Making a positive contribution to their life and their well-being, bringing some cheer to their day with a smile and some laughs and making happy memories. I would urge anyone with some time on his or her hands to get involved with befriending.”