Samaritans volunteers recognised in 2017 New Year Honours

Five Samaritans volunteers have been rewarded for their achievements in the 2016 New Year honours list. The awards recognise the contribution Samaritans’ volunteers have made to society and the value of Samaritans’ Prison Listener Scheme, which celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2016.

The charity’s longest-serving volunteer, 83 year-old Alan Woodhouse from Merseyside, has been awarded an MBE for services to vulnerable people.  Alan has been a listening volunteer for nearly 57 years at Samaritans’ Liverpool branch, which he helped set up in 1960.

Alan, then a teacher in his late twenties, was one of 25 volunteers recruited to take calls day and night from the branch. He went on to help other towns and cities set up Samaritans branches and was instrumental in shaping the principles that underpin its confidential emotional support services.

Alan has served as Director of the Liverpool and Merseyside branch of Samaritans, trained hundreds of new recruits and raised vital funds to protect the future of the branch, including securing National Lottery funding. As well as his own regular shifts every month, Alan also acts as a Leader in the branch, supporting other volunteers in their work.

Alan Woodhouse said: “This honour is not about me, it’s about recognising the work of Samaritans volunteers throughout the decades who have given their time to be there for others. Today, we are busier than ever, ready to listen to anyone going through a tough time or experiencing difficult thoughts and feelings. To anyone thinking about volunteering I’d say do it, it will enrich your life.  

“On every shift I’ve done there’s been a moment that has left me with a sense of purpose, knowing that you are doing something meaningful. We need more people and It’s important that Samaritans volunteers come from all ages, all backgrounds and all walks of life, reflecting the people who call us.”

Also awarded an MBE is Joanna Smith, who’s been a volunteer at Samaritans’ Durham branch for 13 years and is involved in running Samaritans’ Listener Scheme, which aims to reduce suicide and self-harm in prisons. Samaritans volunteers train prisoners in listening skills so that they can offer emotional support to other inmates. Joanna, who is Samaritans’ volunteer Deputy Director of Prisons for the North East, has spent the last 6 years training and supporting prison Listeners in Durham and Low Newton prisons. Her award is for services to offender support.

Joanna Smith said: “I am thrilled to bits. When I got the letter I thought I had been called for jury service – but when I opened it, it absolutely took my breath away.”

A traumatic relationship break-up motivated Joanna to volunteer for Samaritans. “I had good support from friends and family, but it made me think about people who do not have anyone to talk to. The Listener Scheme is the part of being a Samaritans volunteer that I enjoy the most, seeing prisoners develop into people who really want to help others and make use of their time in prison. I’d also like to highlight the relationship that we have built in prisons with the Safer Custody Team, who are very committed and want the best for Listeners.”

Pam Preston from Dudley has been given the British Empire Medal (BEM) for services to Mental Health in the West Midlands, reflecting work in the local community that has made a real difference. Pam has been a listening volunteer for 9 years and was previously Director of Samaritans’ Brierley Hill branch, which has built innovative partnerships with agencies such as the police. Volunteers from the branch are on hand to support people who are taken into custody, a time of greater suicide risk. 

Pam, who is currently Deputy Regional Director for Samaritans in the West Midlands and Acting Director of its Telford branch, had no idea that she had been nominated for an award.

Pam Preston said: “I am absolutely overwhelmed and thrilled and would like to accept this honour on behalf of all the dedicated volunteers that I’ve been lucky enough to work alongside to help support some of the most vulnerable people in society. I hope that it will inspire others to give their time to Samaritans too.”

Richard Price, a volunteer at Samaritans’ Chester branch where he is also Branch Prison Support Officer, has also been awarded A British Empire Medal for services to Samaritans and to the community in Chester.

Richard, who has been a volunteer for more than 40 years, has been branch director, day and training leader and has taken the lead in outreach work, as well as being a listening volunteer. He also founded the scheme for Samaritans volunteers to regularly attend the Countess of Chester A&E department, which has run for 20 years.

Richard is still training volunteers and is about to lead a team supporting the Listeners at the new prison at Berwyn near Wrexham. Thirty volunteers from nearby branches including Rhyl, Shrewsbury and Crewe will also be taking part. He has also been a foster parent, a Barnardo’s volunteer and a puppy walker for Guide Dogs for the Blind.

Sue Green, a Samaritans volunteer at Ealing branch in West London for 36 years, received an MBE for services to education and the community. Sue, 66, who started volunteering for Samaritans as a way of meeting new people after moving to the area, has held a number of positions, including branch director and co-director.

She has been part of a team supporting Prison Listeners in Feltham for 16 years and Wormwood Scrubs for eight, and is involved in outreach work, including Samaritans’ partnership with Network Rail to reduce suicides on the railways.

The award also recognised her other charity work, which includes running a Christmas card shop which has raised 700,000 pounds for charities and as a trustee with the Ealing Youth Orchestra.

“I am completely overwhelmed,” said Sue, “and very proud and pleased that people have taken the trouble to nominate me.”

Alan, Joanna, Pam, Richard and Sue are due to receive their honours from the Lord Lieutenant at ceremonies locally and will then be invited to attend a Royal Garden Party at Buckingham Palace in the summer.

Samaritans Chair Jenni McCartney said: “Our volunteers are the heart of Samaritans and they are also at the heart of their communities. Volunteers like Alan, Joanna, Pam, Richard and Sue show how they put their Samaritans training to good use to make a wider contribution locally over many years, whether by taking calls or by going into prisons and teaming up with the police, ambulance and other services to make a real difference to people. It is great to see them being recognised.

“Our volunteers are available anytime for people who are struggling, and our helpline is free to call from any phone and it won’t show up on your phone bill. You can also email or text us, or come and talk to us face to face. Without our volunteers’ commitment and skills, Samaritans could not support the many people who rely on us.”

Suicide is the biggest killer of men under 50 in the UK and the biggest killer of men and women aged 20-34.  Samaritans now has more than 20,000 volunteers based in 201 branches across the UK and Ireland, responding to more than 5.4 million calls for help a year.

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For more information, photos and interviews, please contact the press office on 020 8394 8300 or email press@samaritans.org.

Notes to editors:

  • Anyone can contact Samaritans for free from any phone on 116 123. This number is FREE to call and won’t show up on your phone bill. You can email jo@samaritans.org, or visit www.samaritans.org to find details of your nearest branch to talk face to face.
  • Every 6 seconds someone contact Samaritans. Its 20,000 volunteers, who are based in 201 branches across the UK and Ireland, respond to more than 5.4 million calls for help a year by phone, email, text, letter and face to face.  Samaritans also works with the NHS, emergency services, in workplaces, in prisons, with the rail industry, in the community and in schools and colleges to support those who may be at risk of suicide, or where a person has taken their own life. 
  • Your money or your time could save a life. Find out about volunteering and other ways to donate or support us at www.samaritans.org.