Samaritans ‘needed more than ever’ as charity marks 70 years since first call

The Samaritans helpline is needed now more than ever, the charity said as it reached a “landmark” 70 years of life-saving work.

On Thursday it is exactly seven decades since the organisation’s vicar founder Chad Varah took the first call on November 2, 1953.

While callers’ issues can vary from relationship problems to family issues, and mental or physical health, the charity said it currently takes more than 400 calls a day from people “consumed by money worries” as it operates on the “frontline of the cost-of-living crisis”.

Keith Leslie, Samaritans chair, said: “Today is a landmark day for Samaritans, as we celebrate 70 years of life-saving work.

“We are proud to have met all the challenges we have faced since 1953, and especially grateful to all our amazing volunteers for their help over all these years.

“As we look towards the future, we know people are struggling to cope and need us more than ever before.”

He said the focus now is on continuing to “be there for everyone, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year in whatever way that works best for them” as he thanked volunteers and those who donate to “keep our services going”.

Long-time volunteer Bob Howe, who has taken more than 10,000 calls in the two decades he has been with the charity, described it as a “great privilege to be there”.

The retired stockbroker, 68, from Leeds, said: “From my first calls, I quickly realised the value of Samaritans and how important and supportive our work is to people in need, be they suicidal or just needing to talk through whatever is happening to them at that time.

“Being a listening volunteer puts you right at the side of the person you are there to help, as if you were in the same room, and that makes it a very special place to be. It’s a great privilege to be there.”

He said would-be volunteers should rest assured they get good training before handling calls, and he encouraged anyone interested to go for it.

He said: “If anyone is ever considering becoming a volunteer, my advice is not to be afraid you aren’t the right fit. Most people have it in them to become a Samaritan volunteer – we aren’t special people but with the excellent training and support what we do is very special indeed.

“The training will change you as a person and you will never again totally remove your ‘Samaritan hat’ to anyone around you – you employ those skills in everyday life and people see that in you.

“Volunteering can change someone’s life – yours.”

The charity now has around 22,000 volunteers and more than 200 branches and locations across the UK and Ireland.

The Samaritans helpline is free to call 24 hours a day on 116 123. The charity is also running a small-scale pilot web chat service.

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