|About Bristol Branch||Volunteering||Fundraising|
Our Bristol branch was founded in 1964 after the then Bishop of Bristol, Rt. Reverend Oliver Tomkins, called a few people together to urge upon them the need for a branch of Samaritans in Bristol. They arranged a series of public meetings (one of which was addressed by Samaritans founder, Chad Varah, himself) to disseminate information, appeal for volunteers, raise money and search for suitable premises.
In June 1964 the branch opened for "business" at a Bristol city centre address in St Nicholas Street, close by to the branch we call home today. It was a garret-like top floor accommodation of only two small rooms and run by 45 volunteers. This is an early achievement we are very proud of; even with so few volunteers, the branch was still able to give a 24 hour service. On the opening day, the Lord Mayor of Bristol, for publicity purposes, made the first call to the branch and that evening a volunteer went on West of England television to explain our purpose and make our presence known.
The branch soon found the premises were too small, with just one interview room also used for overnight sleeping and no hot water. In those early days we often struggled to pay our rent, phone and electricity bills. Nor was there much by way of administration, training programmes, or guidance from our General Office. Thankfully our volunteers, as they do now, had a tremendous sense of commitment.
In 1966 the opportunity came to move to larger accommodation in Unity Street, but in 1972 a further move was made to more extensive premises back in St. Nicholas Street at number 37, where the branch is situated today. The property stands on the site of the original city wall and, after dedicated fundraising by the volunteers, was purchased outright. A very prudent move bearing in mind today’s property prices.
Bristol Samaritans serves a population of three quarters of a million people in Greater Bristol and South Gloucester and in 2015 the branch received almost 53,000 contacts from callers by phone, email, face-to-face and text which were all answered by our 140 trained volunteers (the branch has no paid staff). The premises was fully refurbished in 2011 and now has much improved access for less able-bodied visitors and volunteers, a comfortable room for face-to face conversations with callers, two bedrooms, a shower, a general office, a large well equipped training room, and the benefits of central heating, air conditioning and running hot water - quite a change from when the branch first started operating in 1964!
In December 2015 the branch voted to affiliate to the Samaritans Central Charity whilst retaining an element of independence as a Charitable Incorporated Organisation (CIO). This involved a lot of paperwork including a Due Diligence Questionnaire and an application to become a CIO with a new branch constitution. Various checks on the premises had to be carried out and a solicitor transferred custody of the building from the General Office to the branch. This change of charity status to a CIO was completed on 1st October 2016 giving the branch a new Registered Charity No. 1168123, whilst the original charity (No. 242320) now remains only as a “shell” for legal purposes.
Our work in prisons
The occurrence of suicides of people in prison has long been a cause for concern. Samaritans and the Prison Service are continuing to work in close partnership to develop new initiatives to address this worrying trend.
Bristol Branch offers support to Horfield Prison for men and Eastwood Park Prison for women. A team of Samaritan volunteers from the branch visit these prisons to select, train and support prisoners to listen to their fellow prisoners in distress. The work these listeners do can be very challenging and they play a vital role to work of the Bristol branch.