Kate Knight, Programme Director in Strategy and Transformation, shares her thoughts on being a volunteer for Samaritans.
I feel very lucky to be able to listen to people when they most need help.
At the heart of SCW and its success are the people in our organisation. As part of our ongoing commitment to our staff, we support individuals with dedicated volunteer days. SCW employees are able to take up to one week of paid time (pro-rata for part-time employees) to provide some form of support to health, social care or other organisation (including charities), whose work is consistent with the purpose and objectives of the NHS. We understand the impact it can have. Here is an article from Kate Knight, one of our Programme Directors from Strategy & Transformation on Volunteering for the Samaritans.
My Mum was a Samaritan for years. I remember her going off in the evenings to do her shifts at the Putney branch in London. She never talked about what she did there, but whatever she did, she did it every week for 20 years.
I always wanted to know what she was up to. Finally, last year I found out. In January 2020, after 12 weeks of training, I became a Samaritan.
About once a week, I go to the Bristol branch of the Samaritans and take calls from people who are distressed and having a really hard time. The branch is kept open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, by volunteers. In fact, there’s only one paid member of staff and that’s the cleaner. It’s a wonderful example of volunteering at its best – with the recruitment, the training, the IT, and everything alongside it, carried out by volunteers.
For four hours I work alongside at least one other volunteer who has signed up for the same shift, and we answer the phone or reply to emails, talking to people who are struggling emotionally. In normal times, we also talk to people face to face in the branch, but lock-down has put an end to that for the time being. Not everyone is suicidal – but we always try to determine if they are. We never judge and it’s not our job to persuade people to change their minds.
The training delivered is fantastic. With a focus on how to listen and empathise effectively, it gave me confidence that I could respond appropriately to any situation. We don’t offer advice, but we listen and support and provide a confidential, anonymous ear.
Sometimes a call can last for over an hour. Sometimes it’s just a few minutes.
During lockdown, we were there to talk to people who may be entirely on their own and the services they normally have around them have been stripped away. With no local cafes, shops, libraries and GP services open, the Samaritans have been there to offer human contact and support at a time that has been so difficult for many people.
I’ve met some lovely fellow volunteers through Samaritans. And I feel very lucky to be able to listen to people when they most need help.
And I now understand why my Mum was a Samaritan for so long.