Bolton Samaritans first call was taken at 4.50 pm on 3rd May 1965, from someone with a broken leg – and was logged as a hoax! The first ‘real’ call was taken 90 minutes later.
The only problem with our first venue is you couldn’t hear the phones when the organ was being played because we were in a small room behind the organ in St. George's Road Congregational Church. At this time the branch already had 40 volunteers.
A volunteer called Betty answered the night calls for Bolton, for many years these calls were transferred to the volunteer’s home. Now these calls are taken during night shifts at the local branch.
There were 50 steps to climb to the next location of Bolton Samaritans, which was located on the top floor of Corporation Chambers (opposite where the Market Hall is now) from the late 1960s to 1973. It was said that becoming a volunteer was more dependent on your ability to climb these stairs than your ability to cope with callers!
The director in 1973 found a derelict building in Bark Street that felt like walking back into the 19th century. All the old gaslights were still in place, just a couple of light bulbs and a cold-water tap at the back. There were old clogs and shoes lying around the place from when it was used as a cobblers. Wallpaper was hanging off the walls and the plaster was mostly loose. The vendor wanted £2400. We offered £1800 and the deal was done. The renovations were completed at a cost of £5199.
Invitations went out to the Mayor, other Civic dignitaries, and town’s people for our grand opening ceremony. At the event Tom Markland, of Markland and Scowcroft, gave us a cheque for £1000 to complete the building work.
The first (pre-arranged) call was to be taken by the Mayor at 7.15pm on 27th September 1973. Unfortunately it was a real call so he quickly passed it to one of the volunteers. The planned call came through at 7.21pm and the centre was declared open.
Regular visits from mice meant some volunteers refused to man the night shifts – and a Samaritans cat was contemplated to address the issue. But it was decided that a cat might cause more problems than it solved!
A ‘floating floor’ was discovered in 1985 in an extension which was not supported at all sides, so we completely rebuilt part of the rear of the property.
In 1995, it was agreed that we would renovate the loft area, which included a proper staircase to replace a very steep one. In the autumn of 2006 we installed a lift to provide disabled access. Since 2006 no strange goings on have happened in Bolton Samaritans that we know of!
The branch now has 80 volunteers, which is roughly half of the 150 volunteers we had in the 70s and early 80s.