Samaritans listening volunteers provide emotional support 24/7, 365 days a year – responding to someone in need every seven seconds – something which has stayed consistent during the pandemic.
Since March 2020, volunteers have provided emotional support more than 2.3 million times, with one in five contacts specifically concerned about Covid-19, while volunteers suggest coronavirus has affected every call in some way.
Those who have ever used the service might wonder what it is like for the volunteers on the other end of the phone or responding to emails. To answer this question, Colchester Branch Director, Gaynor, gave her perspective to Smiley News.
As both a listening volunteer and a branch director, Gaynor is responsible for overseeing the team of local volunteers and the branch’s overall functioning. She also takes calls and responds to emails from people who are struggling.
In the 18 years she has volunteered for Samaritans, her experience has been positive, finding that volunteers come together as a supportive community.
“It’s very much a family,” she said. “We have to be incredibly supportive of each other, as you can imagine, with the work that we do, and we have really good mechanisms in place to support each other.”
In fact, she enjoys the work so much that it has become integral to her life. She explained: “I think it’s that sense of belonging and mutual support that makes you feel that this is where you belong. I couldn’t imagine not doing it, to be honest.”
To support one another, the volunteers will pause between calls to debrief if a call is particularly challenging. Gaynor explained that volunteers are mentored throughout their work so that they have the support and guidance of a more experienced listener.
When new volunteers first sign up, everyone goes through rigorous training, with a particular focus on active listening to understand how to best respond to calls.
A heightened need for listening
Prior to the pandemic, the Samaritans’ service was already invaluable to supporting people struggling with life.
As Gaynor described, “People may contact Samaritans feeling that they have no options, no clear path of where they need to be and there’s nowhere for them to go. Just opening up and talking about their problems can lead them to think that there are alternatives and ways of helping. It helps clear the wood for the trees.”
With Covid-19, the charity has continued to provide support throughout, taking calls and emails from people specifically worried about the pandemic.
“People’s problems are still the same, in the sense that people are calling us who are anxious about something, or there’s an event that’s happened that’s caused some great distress. But the pandemic has heightened some of those anxieties and fears, the loneliness and worries,” she said.
Considering volunteering for the Samaritans?
For those thinking about joining their local Samaritans team, Gaynor gave these words of encouragement: “It’s an incredibly satisfying thing to be a Samaritans volunteer knowing that you are there supporting people who are in despair.”
It also offers volunteers various benefits. She added: “You learn some really useful, additional skills, make new friends and, as I said, we are like a family. You are part of a really amazing group of people, both at the branch and wider level.”
To sign up as a volunteer go to samaritans.org/support-us/volunteer.
(Please note, due to current restrictions not all branches are able to recruit right now)
To donate to ensure volunteers can continue to support people in need, please click here.
If you need to speak to someone yourself, Samaritans provide confidential, non-judgemental support, free on 116 123, or you can email [email protected]. For more information, please visit www.samaritans.org.