THE charity which provides an ear for Swindonians in distress celebrates its 50th birthday soon.

Suicide rates have been declining on average over the last few years in the town, which is welcomed by the local branch of Samaritans.

The Swindon and District Samaritans reach their half-century on October 7, just four years after the national charity achieves the same landmark.

With about 70 volunteers working to keep the local branch operating, they have spoken to countless people in that time, providing them with the listening they need to support them in hard times.

“The Samaritans has been there for people who are in distress and despair, and have nobody else to turn to”, said Darren Tee, director of the branch.

“You have friends and family that you can talk to about some things, but some things are just too difficult to speak about with people who are close to you.

“We are there as a completely confidential place to talk about things that are happening to you.”

Times have moved on since the group was first founded, and the traditional image of the charity only being a phone call away has now changed, so that they are now contactable by email and text.

But the Swindon branch, based above its charity shop on Curtis Street, is still there to provide a local voice for those who want to talk through their thoughts. Staffed solely by volunteers, they aren’t always open. If there is no-one available, callers are automatically redirected to a national phone bank.

Darren said: “There’s around 70 or 80 of us - Samaritans are a 24-hour service, who are always open and available to people. The Swindon branch isn’t open 24 hours, but we aim to be open as much as we can.

“I think it’s important to have representation for Swindon and the district. There are going to be people who are going through things in their life and need to go through them with somebody – they may be having suicidal thoughts, and they are hard to talk about in society.

“We are there for them, to talk through what options they think they have available. It’s important to have that locality to connect with people.

“Through listening we are able to break down some of the barriers that are in the way. Sometimes if you’re on your own, you need to step back and talk through the things you are going through with somebody else.”

There will be a number of events held to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Swindon and District Samaritans, and they are also planning an archive to mark the landmark.

You can call the Samaritans for free, at any time, on 116 123.