The director of a Lynn charity that offers a listening ear to the lonely in their time of need is calling on young volunteers to get involved and help change the charity’s image.
Keith King runs the local branch of the Samaritans and is hoping to encourage more volunteers to join the team with plans to eventually run a 24-hour service once more.
Mr King said: “The days of being a suicide line are gone. Now we deal with a full range from the trivial to the severe. We have people dealing with the loss of a pet alongside those who actively want to end their own life.
“When you take a call, it’s always like taking that first call again because you can have something completely trivial or you could have someone on the line who is about to take their own life.”
He added: “Confidentiality is key to our work. It takes a court order to make us talk and even then we don’t do it willingly. The minute we give this up, we lose our callers because the trust is gone. We don’t give advice or judge.”
The branch opened in 1974 as a satellite for the Norwich centre, but became a autonomous in 1988 when it was open 24 hours a day.
In the last year, Lynn’s listeners have dealt with more than 11,000 phone calls, 75 face-to-face meetings and 806 emails, which was 200 up on the previous year.
The centre has 46 fully-qualified volunteers and a further four who are in the observation stage of their training, this allows them to cover the 46 shifts each week.
Mr King said: “We’d like to do more hours but we need volunteers. Ideally we would like to run 24 hours a day again but we would need 100 volunteers in order to maintain this.
“We offer probably the best training ever, but not the best hours so it’s a massive ask of our volunteers but it’s so rewarding, we’re like a family.”
He added: “Our youngest volunteer is 18-years-old but we have others who are older and retired, and we have a huge range of backgrounds. I personally would like to see more young people coming in to volunteer to help change the idea of the older listener in their twinset and pearls.
“It would also mean that when younger people contact us that they have someone their own age to speak to, which they might find easier.
“You don’t have to be special to be a volunteer, but you feel special when you are one.”
The branch offers the same specialist training that is given to those who work in prisons during a series of two Sunday and six Wednesday evening sessions.
Mr King said: “We make sure they know what to do with a caller and what support is available afterwards.
“They then move on to a 10- to 12-week mentoring stage when they will be assigned a Samaritan and will shadow their work.
“When they are ready and have listened to genuine calls, they will take their first call. We make sure they are prepared for that first call because it could be the worst one of their life. They then enter a six-month probation before becoming a fully-qualified listener.”
The training continues with a further five hours each year to make sure that each listener is equipped to deal with all types of phone call. During each four-hour session, there are two people on duty who deal with phone calls, face-to-face and emails with no priority, one at a time and giving them their full focus.
If you think you have what it takes to be a listener, contact Keith on 01553 761616 for more information or to sign up.