I RECENTLY had the best Monday morning meeting I’ve ever experienced since becoming an MSP in 2016.

Needless to say it wasn’t along the M8 in the Scottish Parliament, nor was it closer to home in Glasgow’s City Chambers.

Instead, it was at a small café in the middle of an Easterhouse Shopping Centre.

I’d heard a lot about Wee Betty’s and the work their committed staff put into the local community, but seeing it for myself was one of the true privileges of being an elected politician.

Run by four sisters, the café isn’t just a warm and friendly place to be, it’s a lifeline for so many in a community that suffers so badly.

It was clear from my morning there how important a venue it is to the many people coming through its doors – and how important those people are to the café.

As part of the nationwide Chatty Café scheme, it recognises the vital role of everyday exchanges with other people when it comes to tackling the loneliness crisis.

The stories I heard in just the space of a couple of hours were inspiring.

How, during Covid, they would phone around their regulars to check they were ok while the facility was closed due to lockdown restrictions.

How, beyond the walls of the café, they organise trips and events so people can enjoy more diverse experiences together, including tribute nights involving Elvis and Tina Turner.

And how, were it not for the café, so many people across Easterhouse would have nowhere else to turn for companionship and social interaction.

The pandemic helped bring issues like loneliness into focus, but for the charities and businesses that we need to tackle the problem, life has never been tougher.

We constantly hear how organisations get down to their last pennies, face closure, and then – if they’re lucky – get bailed out at the last minute, giving them a stay of execution for another year.

In the last week alone we heard how Men’s Shed, a charity which does so much for mental health among the male population, warned it would face collapse after Scottish Government funding was pulled.

John Swinney, the new First Minister, has spoken favourable about the charity in the past, and even opened the first Men’s Shed a decade ago.

Accordingly, it received an eleventh-hour reprieve, but such vital resources can’t go on living hand-to-mouth like that.

What we need is a more meaningful, long-term settlement for these organisations which not only help people on the ground but actually do a great deal of the government’s work for it when it comes to isolation and loneliness.

While it was clear how invaluable a resource Wee Betty’s is for the people of Easterhouse, it was also clear that it worked because of the commitment of those running it.

Not every community can count on such selflessness and commitment.

As part of his new role, I would urge Mr Swinney to visit the café and see for himself the scale of its influence and good work.

It may not be the best morning meeting he’s ever had.

But when it comes to tackling loneliness and social isolation in Scotland, it could well be one of his most important.

Attendee panel closed