How do Stafford Samaritans Operate?
We operate mainly from a building in Garden Street where we receive calls from people by telephone and e-mail and also we are open at certain times for people to drop in and talk to us face to face. We work with the national body and at times another branch will take our calls depending on when we can open and at other times we take telephone calls that were destined to other branches. If somebody calls our national number from a landline then it is highly likely that they are answered within the West Midlands.
We are always looking for new volunteers so that we can maintain and hopefully increase the times that we are open. When somebody volunteers to help us they are not thrown in at the deep end but need to undergo training. Samaritans volunteers do not regard themselves as professional in terms of having a certificate or any other recognised qualification. However, we do approach the work we do in a professional manner and much of the support for this comes from our training. In addition to training new volunteers for the branch, we train prisoners to take the Samaritans role in prison (Listeners) and, of course, we carry out ongoing training for the existing volunteers.
The Samaritans Initial Training (SIT) is a nationally standardised course so transfer of trained volunteers between branches is facilitated. The course takes place over six weeks, a full day Saturday followed by five Thursday evenings and a final full Saturday. SIT covers, as much as possible, all areas that are likely to be encountered whilst taking telephone calls, receiving visitors and responding to e-mails. Many of these areas are very sensitive such as bereavement, abuse, domestic violence, depression and the discussion of suicidal feelings. During the training we discuss the central principles and policies guiding our work as Samaritans. We attempt in an active and participative sort of way, to consider the major difficulties and problems we may face in attempting to respond to our callers according to those principles and policies.
Taking calls can be a harrowing and draining experience and we also discuss the extensive support backup which is available at the branch for all volunteers themselves. Following their SIT experience, new volunteers spend some shifts in the branch observing what goes on and discussing any matters which concern them, as well as beginning to take a few real calls. Each new volunteer also has a mentor with whom they can talk things over.
We also operate outside the branch ( outreach) for example in prisons, where we train listeners and in schools where we give talks . In the past year we have given talks in 15 schools , mainly for years 12 and 13 . Our talks centre around encouraging the youngsters not to keep their worries to themselves and are typically either 10 minute tale in assemblies or 40 minute sessions on emotional health which engage the students in a two-way dialogue with us. Leaving school is a big event and we talk about support systems that are available and how to recognise that they are needed.
Another way we use outreach support is through our publicity. Our 24 hour national service is well depicted by display stands and posters in as many public places as we can. Venues such as health centres , libraries and Stafford hospital are just some of the places where the general public can see our displays. Another way we publicise our activities is through speaking to local groups or on local radio. Stafford Samaritans are proactive in the community, putting a public face to what we do. But of course our one-one discussions with people in distress are completely confidential.
Usually we organise our recruitment twice a year but welcome enquiries at any time. We get a number of volunteers through publicity events or recommendations but recently the majority of our enquires have come through the Samaritan website.