East Lothian social enterprise founder ‘humbled’ by global support after theft

Viarama works with schools.
Viarama works with schools.
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THE DIRECTOR of a social enterprise targeted by callous thieves says he is “humbled and moved” after receiving offers of support from around the world.

Thieves made off with more than £20,000 worth of ­virtual reality equipment after smashing their way into East Lothian-based Viarama last weekend – depriving hundreds of terminally ill children and hospice patients of a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

But chief executive Billy Agnew says they are “determined” to get back on their feet after a crowdfunding campaign organised by generous locals reached more than half of its £5,000 target in less than a week.

Billy, 44, revealed that their cause has been helped by offers of assistance from tech companies from as far afield as the United States, Australia and Japan.

He told the Evening News: “It has personally been a very difficult week for me, but I prefer to look at the positives and the support we have had locally through the crowdfunder and from private donations from across the world has just been really heartwarming.

“We’ve had people contacting us from the US, Australia, in Japan to offer moral support, financial support and equipment.”

He added: “It has been tremendously helpful. The equipment can all be replaced, obviously, but knowing we have this level of support, we are absolutely convinced we can bounce back.”

No descriptions are available of those responsible for the theft but police are currently investigating.

Viarama harnesses the power of VR technology to improve the quality of life of schoolchildren, senior citizens and others.

Billy founded the enterprise after seeing the positive effect virtual reality had on patients living with dementia while studying for his degree – where the technology allowed elderly people to be transported back to significant locations from their past.

He said the innovative programmes allowed patients the chance to reconnect with their lives, adding they provided “emotional relief”.

Billy said: “We are regularly working in hospices and hospitals where people are in the last days of their lives, so to provide them with some kind of link to a place that provokes an ­emotional reaction, it is difficult to quantify that.

“Maybe we are taking them back to proposals, honeymoons, places they have served in the military service – it means something for these people to be back there.”

He added: “We do it for that response, not for that recognition.”