Samaritans relieve New Year loneliness

Swindon Advertiser: Samaritans helpers provide a sympathetic voice for those who need somebody to talk to Samaritans helpers provide a sympathetic voice for those who need somebody to talk to

THE clock strikes midnight on the morning of January 1, 2014, and a Glasgow man is feeling more alone than usual as the city erupts with fireworks, Auld Lang Syne and the chinking of glasses. He calls a man tucked away in a Swindon side street for help.

The man on the other end of the phone is neither paid nor forced to listen. He chooses to sit at that end of the phone, with a number 60 million people have, because he wants to help, he wants to listen, and he wants to change lives.

This scenario might have been two women, or a man and a woman – it is insignificant. The volunteer is significant, never more so than throughout Christmas and the New Year.

Swindon and District Samaritans have operated in the area for more than 40 years. It is a service open to the entire country, as is every branch of the Samaritans charity, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Volunteers like Paul Bentley may end up speaking with a lonely Glaswegian on New Year’s Day.

The 54-year-old, who works in financial service full-time and lives in Euclid Street, has operated the phones in the branch’s Curtis Street headquarters for the past 13 years. He has covered his fair share of Christmas and New Year shifts.

“The prime role is to support people who are falling into despair or in distress with suicidal thoughts,” he said. “We encourage them to talk about their situation and generally explore the options with them.

“In the thick of it they can’t think of a way out. You have to listen to what they have to say and offer advice and guidance.”

In 2000, a female friend of Paul’s was volunteering at the Swindon branch, though he admits he knew nothing of Samaritans at that time. She got him an interview and the rest is history.

“It’s always been a part of me trying to do things for other people. If you look at Christmas and New Year I will have done a shift every year,” he said.

“We rota 80 plus volunteers each year and they all play their part in that Christmas and New Year rota.

“People call for all sorts of reasons and it can be something through loneliness, which isn’t something which might be part of someone’s everyday life because of a work schedule, but when everything closes down over Christmas it can hit people hard.

“It might be a first anniversary, or first Christmas without somebody.

“They may be thinking they should be enjoying themselves at this time of year, like most people, and when they don’t they feel bad about themselves for not enjoying this time of year.

“I would hope we deliver the same level of support throughout the year. People contact us every day and they are looking for a consistent service.”

Each year the service in Swindon responds to 34,000 calls, 1,000 e-mails, 130 face-to-face callers and 2,500 text messages.

It requires more than just listeners though, there is direction needed at the head of the charity. Linda Morgan is the director at the branch, responsible for appointing and training volunteers as well as day-to-day administration. She oils the cogs.

“We know our volunteers are there because they realise the importance of the support we are able to offer to people,” she said.

“We try very hard to make sure they are part of our family at Christmas.

“It’s vital because sometimes there simply isn’t anybody else.”

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