A Fife teenager who helped a pensioner overcome loneliness and isolation during lockdown has been honoured at Holyrood.
Student teacher Freya Riley was celebrated as one of Scotland’s “local heroes” during the official opening ceremony of the Scottish Parliament.
She was finally able to meet up with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who kept a promise to catch up with Freya in person and thank her after a special phonecall last year.
The 18-year-old, from Kelty, was invited to Holyrood by her local MSP Annabelle Ewing.
Freya provides support to pensioner Chris during lockdown
Her Majesty the Queen was in attendance, joined in Edinburgh by the Prince Charles and Camilla, the Duke and Duchess of Rothesay.
MSPs nominated local heroes who have gone above and beyond for their community during the pandemic.
Freya became a kindness volunteer with Chest Heart & Stroke Scotland during the first lockdown in 2020.
Since then, she has been providing a lifeline of support for pensioner Chris Smith, 70, who lives alone in Springfield.
Now in the second year of a degree in primary teaching at Queen Margaret University, Freya volunteered to help people in her community who were isolated and unable to leave their homes because of the pandemic.
I get my greatest joy out of knowing I’m making someone else happy
Paired with Chris, Freya has been calling him twice a week to chat about their shared interest in music and animals.
Freya said she was honoured to be invited to the opening of parliament.
She said: “I love volunteering with Chest Heart & Stroke Scotland.
“I get my greatest joy out of knowing I’m making someone else happy.
“It’s amazing the opportunities it’s given me on top of helping others.
“It was great to finally meet Nicola Sturgeon after our call last year and I can’t wait to tell Chris all about it.”
Friendship helps Freya overcome own anxieties
As well as supporting Chris, Freya says the new-found friendship has also helped her overcome some difficulties of her own.
“I have anxiety, so calling Chris for a chat distracts me from being worried about other things,” she said.
“He’s like my adopted grandad. All of my grandparents have passed away except for my nanny who is in Wales, so it’s good to have someone older to talk to.”
Ms Ewing has described Freya as “an inspiration”.
She said: “It’s amazing to see the support and kindness that has flourished in our communities during what has been an incredibly difficult time for everyone.
“Right at the start of lockdown she decided to volunteer her time every week to help people in her community and she has been a lifeline to Chris who would have otherwise been on his own.”
Also honoured at Holyrood was Dundonian Andrew Batchelor, founder of Dundee Culture.
❤️❤️❤️ Well, what an amazing experience! It was a huge privelege to be recognised as one of Scotland's local heroes but an even bigger privelege to be representing Dundee, a place so close to my heart… #ScotParlOpening pic.twitter.com/0xgoYt5iZI
— Dundee Culture (@DundeeCulture) October 2, 2021
Andrew’s visit to the Scottish Parliament proved an early birthday present for him as he got to meet Ms Sturgeon a day before his 21st birthday.
Commenting on the visit, Andrew said as well as chatting to the Queen, the highlight of the day was meeting Pam Duncan-Glancy, the first permanent wheelchair user to serve the Scottish Parliament.