A brief history of the Samaritans of Bracknell, Wokingham, Ascot & Districts branch.
The branch originally known as the Bracknell, Wokingham, Ascot & Districts branch of The Samaritans was started in 1972 by a local Church of England minister, the Rev Hedley Ringrose.
At that time there were only local telephone numbers with what were called STD codes. The branch’s number was 0344-55555 which became 01344-455556.
Olwen, who was among the first volunteers, said many volunteers were inspired by The Befrienders on TV and they were trained at the neighbouring Reading branch of The Samaritans. The first call received was the offer of an armchair to the centre.
The branch began with 40 volunteers and opened for three hours every day from 7pm. Over the years, both the number of volunteers and the opening hours have increased. Currently the branch has on average around 80 listening volunteers and 10 support volunteers, contributing to the Samaritans’ service which is available all through the year, day and night.
The Samaritans (later it changed its name simply to Samaritans) was the first telephone helpline and later the first helpline to offer an email service and later an SMS text service. It has always welcomed visitors to its branches.
The branch began in a tiny room in the Great Hollands community centre, which was not ideal as there was often background noise. By 1978, when Avis was director, the branch had moved to Griffin House in the town centre, next to a cinema (The Regal). This location was very cold and also had background noise.
A building fund was set up so that the branch could purchase its own premises. Funds were raised through activities such as what is now known as the annual Samaritans’ Run and events organised by the former Friends’ group of the branch.
The branch moved to a semi-detached house in Easthampstead Road owned by Clifford's Dairies and offered at a peppercorn rent for a few years until all the dairies' buildings were demolished. By this time, 1985, the branch estimated that it would need £85,000 to purchase a suitable property and its assets totalled just over £30,000.
Someone spotted a property, originally a four-bedroom family home that had fallen into disrepair and was being offered for sale via sealed bids in excess of £40,000. Samaritans successfully submitted a sealed bid of £40,001. Some more busy fundraising followed and in 1986 this property was bought. The branch is still located here, by the railway line near the football ground.
The property was originally 5 Hope Cottages, Mount Pleasant but these properties were later renumbered. We retained the name Hope Cottage but became 2 Mount Pleasant, Larges Lane.
A major refurbishment took place 2000-2001 when the bathroom and kitchen facilities were improved and also wheelchair access provided for visitors.
Another refurbishment took place in 2009-2010 to provide a small office and a meeting/training room upstairs and, downstairs, a sitting area for volunteers to use before and after their shifts as well as an improved “duty” room. A very fine wall hanging was designed and embroidered by a volunteer, showing the branch’s work and history.
The popular annual Samaritans Run
In the late 1970s the branch held an annual sponsored walk to raise funds, starting from South Hill Park. In 1980 the walk became two laps round the lake at Virginia Water. Some preferred to jog, and, as jogging increased in popularity, the event became a fun run. In 1982 it became the Great Sam Run, starting at Ascot racecourse. Later it moved to Easthampstead Park School, then when the school was to be rebuilt it moved to Fujitsu, and was by now a half marathon. Then it moved to Wellington College but became a 5K and 10K race. Currently the event is back at Easthampstead Park School and continues to be the branch’s major, and very popular, fundraising event of the year.