People, purpose and the power of learning to listen.
Maria’s interest in people, openness and drive to find purpose in her retirement led her to the Samaritans – Bournemouth and District, where she’s volunteered for 30 years, listening to callers, supporting outreach and helping to mentor new volunteers.
“When I retired, I wanted to stay active, be useful and have a purpose. It really keeps you going and your mindset open. I love learning about people and applied after hearing more from a friend doing the role.
It’s a very special and trusted international charity, not just because of what it does, but how each branch is organised. It’s like a family. Volunteers choose their local branch Director and we support them across all areas of our work from training and outreach to fundraising and our Bournemouth shop on Christchurch Road.
I love it, which might seem strange when you are dealing with sadness, but you know you are helping people and making a difference. Our volunteers are a mix of ages, tend to be very social, open-minded and get a huge sense of fulfilment from the role – one has been involved for 50 years! Even though our main role is to listen, we are a chatty bunch – listening is a real skill and learning how to do it has had a huge impact on my life.
There’s fantastic training. Roles vary from crucial admin, grant applications and shop support to the more specialised ‘listening’ that people most associate with us. To be in a listening role involves an interview and if selected, you go through in-depth training that gives you skills and confidence to deal with things in life. You also have a mentor who supports you throughout the process.
New recruits think you know it all because you’ve been involved for years, but you don’t. Although there’s a core set of skills, people with different perspectives and backgrounds keep us up to date and we share knowledge across the team. You can start a shift with someone you’ve not met and by the end you know their life story. There’s a great sense of teamwork.
People can contact the Samaritans for free, day or night, by calling 116 123 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Volunteers choose the duties that suit them. Most shifts are three hours and you’re always in pairs, plus there’s a Leader providing support. Calls come from across the UK and sometimes from other countries.
There’s a misconception that most of our calls are from people who want to take their own life. But people get in touch for all sorts of reasons such as bereavement, health issues or financial problems. Mental Health and addiction also play a huge role as well as loneliness. Some people feel marooned and have no-one to talk to. Having someone to listen with kindness and without judgement can help to avoid a crisis. Sometimes you help people to open-up and say difficult things that have been going on for a long time. Being calm, gentle and welcoming, hearing what’s not said as much as what is. Sometimes people just want to know you are there, but it’s incredible when someone opens their heart to you – a real privilege. The most important thing is, we don’t give advice, but we can signpost people to other support or arrange a follow up call. Our work is not to make people dependent, instead it’s helping them to see what they can do.
The support for volunteers is fantastic. There’s a de-brief after every shift with the Leader. It means you never take anything home with you.
Locally, we go out to events and festivals, provide talks in schools, colleges and Universities and offer outreach through other organisations including Hope for Food, supporting people experiencing homelessness as well as those in police custody suites and prisons. These are really special experiences, where building trust can make a huge difference to people who are vulnerable.
For me, volunteering helps you see the big picture in life – you get as much as you give and meet amazing people. If you are thinking about it, ask yourself why you want to volunteer, find something you’re interested in and above all enjoy it.”
Anyone interested in volunteering with the Samaritans visit www.samaritans.org/support-us/volunteer