The Rotary Club of Senlac

AT a recent club meeting members of the Rotary Club of Senlac were introduced to Jan and June, who organise the Hastings and Rother Samaritans.

We learned that this year is the 50th year of listening in the Hastings and Rother area. The Samaritans were founded in 1935 by Chad Varah. As a young vicar he was officiating at the funeral of a young girl who had committed suicide after starting her periods because she believed she had venereal disease and he realised how great the need was for confidential help.

The first crisis telephone hotline started in November 1953 and today it operates day and night. There are now 202 branches in the UK and Eire and branches are also set up at festivals such as Glastonbury throughout the year.

The biggest branch is in central London with 495 volunteers, the smallest in Orkney with 14 and there are 20,665 volunteers in total.

The only paid staff is in the general office and the ratio is 205 volunteers to one paid person where other charities average 24 volunteers to one paid member of staff.

In 1994 email contact was set up and in 2006 texts as younger people prefer to text.

There is opportunity for face-to-face contact in the Hastings office and the Samaritans vision is that fewer people should die by suicide.

Volunteers are able to help people explore their feelings by active listening. The service is totally confidential and calls cannot be traced.

In the Hastings area callers by telephone have increased from 167 in 1964 to 14,597 in 1994. Most of these calls are from distressed people, some suicidal, some lonely and depressed who just need to talk. The most vulnerable group being men aged 25-45.

The current building in St Andrews Square is owned by the Samaritans thanks to a generous donation. Since the Jimmy Savile case there has been an increase in calls.

More volunteers are urgently needed as, ideally, the branch wants to open 24/7. The busiest time is in the twilight hours (night owls). Volunteers of all ages and backgrounds are needed. No volunteer is allowed to offer advice but they will signpost to other agencies which are able to help.

The Hastings branch is totally self-funding and needs £20,000 per year for bills and more computers and phones are needed.