Lockdown may have prevented South Woodford resident and Samaritans volunteer Barbara Collins from meeting people face to face, but volunteers are still answering the phone … and listening
When the lockdown began, I wondered how I could continue my volunteering work with Samaritans. I joined Redbridge Samaritans about five years ago after I retired. I really appreciated the chance to meet new people and felt I was contributing something useful to the community.
Since then, I have spent about three hours a week at our Ilford centre, taking phone calls, answering emails and seeing personal callers. I have enjoyed being a leader for other volunteers and leading our recruitment team. Both the update training and the ongoing support from other volunteers have been great.
As many readers will know, Samaritans has, for many years, provided a confidential listening service for people in emotional distress. People of all backgrounds contact us about all kinds of problems. These could be depression, loneliness, stressful situations at home or work, debt or abuse. We listen, give them a chance to get it out, and talk things through. Only about one in five calls or messages are from people feeling suicidal, and the vast majority of these aren’t actively planning to end their lives. Our branch has about 70 volunteers and answers 10,000 calls a year.
During lockdown we have had to make a few adjustments. For example, we are unable to meet callers face to face. Also, some of our volunteers are self-isolating. Across the country, about 30% of Samaritans volunteers have needed to self-isolate. Arrangements have been made to allow some of us to answer Samaritans emails from home, through a secure connection. Most Samaritans have continued to go into their branches to take calls. They have been designated as essential workers, allowing them to travel. In April, Samaritans worked with other organisations to set up a confidential telephone helpline dedicated to support NHS workers.
During this time, we have appreciated the many offers from people who want to volunteer. Due to Covid-19, we had to stop our face-to-face training, but please continue to register your interest online. We will get in touch as soon as we can start training volunteers again, either in person or online.
Fundraising for branches and for Samaritans nationally is a problem as many of our usual activities are not happening: no quiz evenings or other events involving gatherings. If you would like to donate to Samaritans nationally or locally, please do so online.
And most importantly, if you need our help, don’t forget we’re here to listen 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. We listen. We won’t judge or tell you what to do.