Winchester Samaritans – Caring in our Community for Over 40 years

Back in 1975 the then Mayor Councillor Allan Cotterill launched a public appeal by chairing a meeting in the Guildhall Hall on Friday 19th September. This was attended by 200 people including the Southampton Samaritans Director, Mr Freddy Watts. 

The speaker was The Rev David Evans who was then the General Secretary of the National Samaritans Organisation. In an article in the Chronicle, Allan Cotterill said the meeting was “to enlist support for the opening of a branch of The Samaritans in Winchester”

After the meeting Mr (later Rev) Alan G Jones (Acting Director) reported that “The response has been remarkable and a lot of work has been done towards the forming of the group. We are now in the middle of our training sessions and it is hoped that we shall have sufficient trained Samaritans to open our Centre in the late Spring”

A generous donation had enabled the new group to occupy premises, which were formally in an old shop, at 7 Stockbridge Road.

The new Centre was formally opened on 1st July 1976 by the Mayor, Mrs Gwendoline Shave (see picture on left) and she received the first call from the Rev Chad Varah, the man who had founded the Samaritan Movement in 1953. At this time there were  90 trained volunteers operating a 12 hour service . In the first 6 months 530 calls had been received and in the second 6 months this had risen to 900. The Caring Work continued to develop and by 1980 there were 180 volunteers operating 24 hours around the clock and they received 13,000 calls during the year. 

Chad Varah at Winchester Samaritans AGM with Mayor Pamela Peskett and Director Dee Tuffill

Publicity and Fundraising in Winchester High Street 6th May 1977

After 2 years of operating in far from ideal conditions in Stockbridge Road,  Winchester Samaritans purchased the Methodist Church  in Parchment Street for £20,000 helped by two generous interest free loans, However they were only able to occupy one corner of the former Church enduring difficult conditions for a further five years while restoration work took place.

In 1983 The Chronicle reported “Thanks to the combined efforts of the local Youth Employment Opportunities Group and a dedicated band of Samaritans, who have wielded saws, paint brushes and mops, to say nothing of exercising the talents of volunteers who happened to be electricians, builders, plumbers and architects, the premises are ready. The vision, faith, courage and  gritty endeavour of these pioneers has paid off”. 7 years after opening in Stockbridge Road,  Winchester Director , Mrs Elaine Constable, welcomed the Samaritans National Secretary and  Lady Romsey who formally opened the New Centre,- 10 Parchment Street.

The next few years saw volunteer numbers at around 200 and annual calls in the order of 14,000 with an increasing number of caller visitors to the Centre. 

Fundraising has always been an important element of Samaritans work, as without it our work could not continue. Friends of Samaritans was set up back in 1976 to raise funds and recruit  people in support roles.

While Samaritans have had great support from groups, such as the Rotary Club, without any government or local council funding, they need to undertake “tin shakes” and other events to meet  escalating costs arising from their work. One of the main sources of income supporting the Parchment Street operation was the lease of the main nave of the Methodist Church to Smiths for their stock storage. When this ended in 1998, the charity was unable to sustain a satisfactory income to maintain operations.

This therefore prompted the move to 13 Upper High Street in 2000 from where Samaritans have run their services up to now.

During the 40 years of caring Winchester Samaritans has trained over 1400 volunteers and made in the order of one million contacts with callers.