Worthing Samaritans has celebrated 50 years of listening with a civic reception toasting the many volunteers and supporters.
The independent branch, affiliated to the national Samaritans charity, opened in April 1969 and in the first year, took 175 phone calls. Now, 50 years on, volunteers in Worthing answer more than 25,000 phone calls, 1,500 emails and 2,000 text messages each year.
Director Liz Riach said the branch was totally reliant on donations and all involved were proud of how far it had come. She hopes the trustees will go on to celebrate more milestones in future years.
Guests at St Paul’s Worthing on Monday heard the longest-serving volunteer had been with the charity for 48 of the 50 years.
Worthing mayor Paul Baker congratulated the branch and spoke of his own experience of losing a friend to suicide.
More than 100 volunteers are needed at any one time and trained listeners respond to phone calls, text messages, emails and face-to-face callers at the office in Lennox Road, Worthing, from 9am to 9pm every day.
Mark White, 51, has been a listener for two years and says the hardest thing is the harrowing calls, hearing what some people are having to deal with and how low they are.
“Some calls just can’t shift from my mind but you can’t dwell on them,” he added.
Mark has severe glaucoma and took on the role after recovering from alcoholism.
He said: “I got in a bad way due to the loss of my eyesight and then I learned how important listening was from my own experience of counselling and group therapy. Giving someone five minutes to talk can be crucial.”
Blanche Potter, 38, has been part of the speakers team and is currently a listening volunteer. She has helped deliver talks at businesses, groups and events on topics including emotional awareness and how to recognise the signs of poor mental health.
She said: “The Samaritans provide such a vital service for so many people and I’ve always had the greatest of respect for what they do. I had been commuting to work for a year and was shocked by the number of fatalities announced on the tracks during that time.
“On a particular day, after yet another fatality, I went on to the Worthing Samaritans website and contacted them to become a volunteer.”
She urged anyone thinking about volunteering to ‘do it’ and said the thorough training was good preparation for the first call. There is also post-training mentoring and ongoing emotional and practical support to help volunteers build their confidence.
Blanche said: “It may seem daunting but joining the Samaritans is one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done. What struck me when I joined was the immense sense of support and community.”
Samaritans was founded in London in 1953 by vicar and cartoonist Chad Varah, after he conducted a funeral for a 14-year-old girl who had taken her own life.
He had previously offered informal counselling to parishioners and, wanting to do more, officially founded Samaritans to try to save the lives of people who were contemplating suicide.
Nowadays, the free service goes way beyond suicidal callers. Worthing Samaritans will help anybody of any age who is going through a difficult time and needs someone to talk to anonymously.
Since 2008, Worthing Samaritans has also supported the Samaritans Prison Listeners Scheme at Ford Prison.
How to help:
• Worthing Samaritans has a charity shop in Strand Parade, The Boulevard, Durrington, which helps fund the branch. Clothing and other donations are always welcome.
• As part of its 50th anniversary, Worthing Samaritans has launched a 50/50 appeal and is seeking 50 companies to kindly donate £50 via the donation link at www.samaritans.org/branches/worthing
• The will be an indoor cycle ride, Help Us To Keep Going, in October and people are invited to take part to help with fundraising.
• Contact Worthing Samaritans at 2 Lennox Road, Worthing, or via @WorthingSams on Twitter if you are holding an event and are able to collect donations, or you are a school or organisation that would like to book a speaker.
• Volunteer. Information sessions are held monthly, all dates are posted on Twitter and listed online.