Samaritans in Colchester started in 1964. In the early years there were about 65 volunteers and we were not able to offer 24 hour availability. Today we have around 100 listening volunteers and 20 support volunteers, and our telephone service is now available 24 hours of every day of the year.
Our Current Premises in Walsingham Road
At the end of November 2011, Colchester Samaritans moved into new headquarters we had purchased in Walsingham Road, just off the Southway in the town centre. Our previous home in Vineyard Street, which we had occupied for over 46 years, was no longer fit for purpose and our new premises are much more suitable for both our callers and our volunteers.
Our new home is called the Walsingham Road Community Hall, reflecting our ambition for it to become an integral part of the community in Colchester.
The move to Walsingham Road was the culmination of years of fund raising. When the decision was made to move out of Vineyard Street, it was also decided that we would try to buy our new home. Quite an ambitious task for an organisation which relies totally on monies it can raise itself. The decision to buy and not lease was made after careful consideration of a number of factors including:
- We would have to pay very much more in rent every month than we did in Vineyard Street.
- More of our volunteers' time would therefore be diverted to fund raising activities with the associated risk that less time would be available to be spent on our core activity of taking calls from those who need our support.
- Owning our premises will actually reduce our running costs considerably, enabling us to provide a better service in the future to those people who need us.
As well as raising £220,000 needed to purchase our new HQ, a £70,000 grant was spent adapting the building to the specific needs of Colchester Samaritans, including a new duty room, where volunteers take phone calls and answer e-mails. The hall also incorporates a new visitors’ room for those who prefer to speak face-to-face to a Samaritan volunteer.
Purchasing the new premises was only the beginning. The period immediately following the completion of the sale saw us take careful stock of what we had purchased. We drew up plans to re-configure the building so that it better suited not only our needs but also those of the organisations we hoped would also like to hire the facilities for their own activities.
In no time at all the place was a hive of activity with our own volunteers rolling up their sleeves to clean, paint, repair and improve the facilities, complementing the activities of specialist contractors brought in to tackle the more technically-challenging items on the 'to do' list.
Local companies, particularly Kent Blaxill, donated large amounts of decorating materials to help us. While others, especially Century Office Equipment, gave us the desks and office chairs we needed for our duty room in the new building.
We were especially grateful to the personnel at the Military Corrective and Training Centre at Colchester garrison who, having heard of the task we had set ourselves, stepped up to the mark and very generously helped with decorating the hall and re-laying the slabs on our car park.
We are very proud of the Walsingham Road Community Hall. It is a shining example of what can be achieved by a small charity like ours through sheer hard work and determination. And let us not forget the superb support we had from businesses, large and small, who dug deep in challenging times to give us the support we needed.
We had set ourselves the goal of using the new premises to host our 2011 annual meeting in the May of that year. To our mind there was no better way to share this particular piece of good news with our own volunteers, our supporters, and friends than to invite them to Walsingham Road and see our new home for themselves. It was tight.... But we made it! The new hall was packed to the rafters and it looked splendid as it hosted its first ever Samaritans event. The icing on the cake for us was the presence of Samaritans Chair, Sophie Andrews, who came along to offer her support and gave an inspirational talk that evening.
On December 1 the telephones and e-mail computer in our Walsingham Road duty room became operational, marking the beginning of the next chapter in the remarkable story of the Samaritans of Colchester, Tendring and Suffolk Borders.
One Year On
December 2012 saw Colchester Samaritans celebrate a hat trick of achievements at Walsingham Road Community Hall. Over 80 of the branch’s volunteers attended a social evening which celebrated the first anniversary of Samaritans moving into Walsingham Road. In addition they welcomed the appointment of a new director, Virginia Druitt and thanked Elizabeth Tuxworth for her hard work and dedication as the outgoing director.