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September 2022: Samaritans


Our September meeting started like no other, as we learned just a few minutes before the meeting of the sad passing of HM Queen Elizabeth II. Those present paid their respects for a fellow WI member, a mother, Grandmother and undoubtedly, inspiring woman.

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We then welcomed Mark Edwards, Director of the Harrogate branch of the Samaritans along with Jules, a volunteer at the branch.


Mark explained the makeup of the organisation, with over 200 branches nationally open 24/7 365 days per year. Its Headquarters are in Ewell in Surrey and the charity was formed in 1953, meaning this year they will celebrate 69 years of providing emotional support to anyone in emotional distress, struggling to cope or at risk of suicide.


Mark took over the Harrogate branch in March this year having previously been a head teacher. He explained that the Harrogate branch has 108 listening volunteers and 21 support volunteers. Last year, the branch tracked 28,000 hours of listening and the organisation as a whole took over 1 million calls. A call is made to the Samaritans every 7 seconds.


One of the most important points that Mark stressed that volunteers learn as they complete their training is that the Samaritans are a listening organisation, and those taking calls are trained to listen and ask questions, signpost to other organisations that may be helpful depending on a caller’s situation - but never to give advice.

The core service is that well known phone number 116 123, which allows no tracing, and even won’t appear on a phone bill - however they also help people using email and online chat, which especially with younger people has proven a more likely way that those in need may reach out for help.


The Samaritans also provide some outreach services, to support adults that work in schools after there has been a sudden death, providing a “Postvention” service that helps adults practically know how to help each other as well as the children they work with.


They also visit prisons, Wealstun in Wetherby for the Harrogate team specifically and provide a train the trainer role, to reduce self-harm and suicide, establish support from within and importantly, building incredibly transferable and important skills for prisoners that will help them with rehabilitation and their future after prison. The Samaritans is the only number that a prisoner has a right to make a call to at any time of the day or night.


Jules then gave us her story and experience as a volunteer of 5 years with the Harrogate Samaritans, explaining how important and rewarding that she found the role and that her father before her had been a volunteer. Jules told us about just how much better a listener she now feels she is after the excellent training that a Samaritan listener receives, around 40 hours. Shifts are always performed at the Harrogate branch centre, and listeners are always supported by other volunteers and shift leaders. After each call, a volunteer would have a debrief and ability to rest and reflect and prepare themselves for their next call. Jules explained that its very important when preparing for her shift to ensure that she is in the right mindset, to ensure that she is ready to give herself fully to anyone that she will help through her shift.


After a very engaging and interactive question and answer session, during which we learned the importance of silence during a call and cementing our existing knowledge of the importance of tea and biscuits we started a listening exercise. Using some prepared scenarios that Mark and Jules brought along, our aim in pairs was to practice our questioning skills, using open ended questions and utilising silence where we could – many of agreed that NOT offering advice was trickier that it sounds, but could very clearly see the importance of building a rapport and a safe and comfortable environment to let a caller open up and really get to the heart of how they are feeling. We aimed to leave the call with a more positive outlook and remembered the mantra “it’s OK not to be OK”


Mark thanked Spa Sweethearts for allowing him to bring along a donation tin, the Harrogate branch costs around £33k per year to run– with no government funding. The team get up to all kinds of incredible activities to fundraise.


It’s possible to donate to the Harrogate Branch Directly here: https://samaritanscommunity.enthuse.com/samaritansofharrogate/profile





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