VR social enterprise and Big Issue investee Viarama victim of £20k break-in

Thieves stole £20,000 worth of equipment plus charity collection tins

Scotland-based social enterprise and Big Issue Invest investee Viarama is piecing itself back together after heartless thieves ransacked its East Linton centre.

In the early hours of Saturday morning, those responsible took nearly all of the tech the world’s first virtual reality social enterprise needs to keep enabling elderly people and children to have enriching experiences.

“All of our VR kit was taken,” chief executive Billy Agnew said. “That includes the kit we use to visit schools, nursing homes, hospices, respite centres, and libraries across Scotland. The hardest part to take was that they even stole the wee bit of money we’ve collected for Leuchie House, a respite centre we work with every week.”

The Viarama team was scheduled to visit a local primary school and a hospice this week but Agnew was forced to cancel after robbers smashed their way into the premises through a side window.

Staff discovered the scene of devastation when they arrived for work on Saturday morning.

A lack of CCTV in the centre – due to little funding for the social enterprise, Agnew said – means police do not have a description of the suspect(s).

“At the moment we’re dealing with the insurance company but we’ll also need to fully secure our offices, as I don’t think I could take this happening again,” the chief executive added. “We’ll now need need an alarm system, CCTV, and all of that costs money we don’t have.”

Agnew added that he had to send staff home with no future work in sight, which has been upsetting for both him and staff. The social enterprise is completely without income at present.

But Agnew is optimistic about the social enterprise’s ability to bounce back. “We’re down but not out,” he said. “We’ll find a way to return stronger than before to deliver VR to those who will benefit most from it.”

The community around Viarama has come together in the aftermath of the break-in, with hundreds of people from around the world sending messages of support. Friends of the social enterprise have set up a crowdfunding page so that it can try to recuperate some of the costs of equipment lost in the incident.

“It’s been truly heartwarming,” Agnew said. “Our work has touched many people and it restores our faith in human nature to see so many people willing us to return. It’s really moving.”