EIGHT years ago, Ray Mackie admits his world “fell apart” following the tragic loss of his wife and son.
Battling loneliness and isolation, the retired firefighter said he struggled to reach out for help from friends and family.
But now a love of Elvis Presley, football and the outdoors is helping Ray take his first steps back to daily life – after he struck up a friendship with a fellow widower through a community walking group.
Ray met retired taxi driver Pete Dewar, 69, through walking charity Paths for All’s ‘Changes Community Health Project,’ which aims to combat social isolation by encouraging more people to get active.
And after attending two weekly walks together in Haddington and Prestonpans, the pair have quickly become inseparable after realising they were both fans of “The King”.
Prestonpans local Peter – who joined the group after losing his wife to lung cancer four years ago – said the group allowed them work through their grief and combat isolation.
Peter said: “When my wife passed four years ago, I didn’t know what to do with myself. I felt a bit isolated and was in a bit of a dark place.
“I started walking for a bit of social interaction and to make friends. That’s when I met Ray.”
He continued: “We definitely enjoy meeting up for a karaoke night. Our guilty pleasure is to have a sing-a-long to Elvis. He’s the king.”
Despite only meeting shortly after joining the walking group, Peter added the pair’s links go much further than they initially thought.
He said: “We instantly got on through our love of being active, we have our love of Elvis, but we were chatting while out on one of the trails one day and we realised that Ray actually knew my brother-in-law. It is a small world.”
“That’s the nice thing about the walking group – we are all like-minded people.”
Ray, who spent 37 years as part of the fire service across the capital and East Lothian, commented the group has “helped him get back to normal,” adding all the members were close.
Ray, 67, said: “We chat about Hibs, about what’s in the news, obviously we both love Elvis, it’s good that we have a lot in common.”
“There are usually about 10 to 12 of us out on the walks and a lot of the people are in a similar situation, they’ve lost someone close to them and they need that bit of companionship. I think that is what brings us together.”
The community health project has been backed by a number of organisations including the Scottish Government to promote physical activity and walking for health.
Heather Cameron, the walking co-ordinator for the group, said: “It’s great to see people coming together, especially Ray and Peter.
“The group is so more than just walking. It is great for socialising and bringing individuals together outside of the group.
Heather added: “It’s our job to make people feel safe and welcome when they come along, and if they become friends then that’s even better.”