A young man has told how he was rescued from heart-breaking isolation by a kindly ex-social worker living more than 350 miles away in Kinross-shire.
Ben Canham, who has autism, had been on his own since his parents died when he was just a teenager.
However, a social media post shared by the late June Bernicoff, star of Channel 4’s Gogglebox, brought him together with Shelagh Low in Kinross – and ultimately changed both of their lives for the better.
The 24-year-old became depressed during lockdown last year, after an attack by stone-throwing bullies in his home town of Melton Mowbray left his confidence shattered.
During his time alone – “looking at the same four walls every day” – Ben developed an online friendship with recently retired social worker Shelagh in Kinross.
After months of daily phone calls, Shelagh suggested Ben could escape loneliness by moving in with her.
A week ago today I went for my 1st dose of the #COVID19 vaccine I had #OxfordAstraZeneca @ITVCentral put together this video of me taking my jab I hope it will help to encourage those on the Autistic Spectrum or someone who has a Learning Disability to take the vaccine! 😊 pic.twitter.com/X0GFqENulK
— Ben Canham (@wweisawesome123) March 5, 2021
And as soon as lockdown restrictions eased, 68-year-old Shelagh made the 700 mile round trip to collect Ben from his flat.
Ben said he is now much happier living with his new pal. His confidence has been restored, so much so that he has fronted his own viral campaign to encourage other people with autism and learning disabilities to get a Covid vaccination.
The pair revealed that their friendship was the result of an unlikely source: Gogglebox star June, who died last year. The 82 year-old and her late husband Leon were two of the most loved cast members of the Channel 4 series.
“Ben has quite a big following on social media,” said Shelagh. “June from Gogglebox used to retweet a lot of his posts and that’s where I read about him.”
Ben had written a piece for his local newspaper about his assault, just before lockdown, when thugs threw stones at him and threatened him with a knife.
Shelagh said: “It was my idea to get the police involved, and I had to contact Ben to get his permission to do that.
“After that, we started talking on the phone every day. We made it part of our daily routine.
“We used to watch the same television programmes, and message each other.”
She said: “Ben had lost a lot of confidence at the start of lockdown and fell ill. In fact, we think he had Covid. I suggested he contact his local GP surgery, who told him to rest up.
“Obviously, things like that are difficult to manage from a distance.”
Shelagh, who retired from social work in 2018, said: “When things got really bad, I said to Ben that I would come down and pick him up.
“Living on my own, I was in a position to do that.”
Ben said his life had been transformed by the friendship.
“It’s been quite a rollercoaster ride. When I look back at the first months of lockdown – when I was just looking at the same four walls every day – it really wasn’t a positive experience.
“But this time it’s different. Having Shelagh for company has been a massive help. We play board games and watch films together to pass the time.
“I’ve already made a lot of good memories.”
He said he recorded a video of his vaccination to help inspire others to get the jab. “I wanted to do that for the learning disability and autistic community,” he said. “I know some people are nervous about getting their vaccine, and I wanted to help others feel more confident about it
“The quicker we can get everyone vaccinated, the quicker we can get back to normal.”
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