British Empire medal for Samaritans volunteer

A Samaritans volunteer has been awarded a British Empire Medal (BEM) in the New Year honours.

Dawn Parkinson, 53, who is a volunteer for Samaritans in Belfast, has been recognised for her ‘voluntary services through Samaritans’.

Describing how she felt when she heard the news, Dawn said: “It was just as well that I was sitting down when I got the phone call! I feel really honoured and properly proud, not just for me but for my family, work colleagues and all the volunteers at the Belfast branch of Samaritans.

“This is great recognition for what we do. I’m forever telling people how rewarding it is to be a Samaritans volunteer. I hope my BEM will encourage others to keep volunteering, become a volunteer, or just find out more about what we do – we’re there for anyone who needs us to listen.”

Dawn, who works for the Northern Ireland Environment Agency, has been a listening volunteer for three years and has taken on additional roles in that time including ‘Day Leader’, which involves ensuring that rotas are filled and being available 24 hours a day for other Samaritans volunteers who need support or a listening ear themselves.

She is also involved in providing emotional support to prisoners in Belfast’s Hydebank Wood prison, which houses both women and young offenders, including prisoners on remand.

Dawn Parkinson said: “We let prisoners know about Samaritans and how we are non-judgmental. When you’re cut off from your family and locked up, the myriad of problems we can all face are ten times worse. I feel a real empathy with that. We explain that if they are struggling and need emotional support, inmates can ask staff for one of our special phones that just dial straight through to Samaritans.”

Samaritans volunteer Robert Bell, who is also Director of the Belfast branch, said: “Dawn is always upbeat and positive and she has made a tremendous contribution. She’s enthusiastic, willing to get involved and very supportive of her volunteer colleagues. I’m delighted that she’s been awarded a BEM and would like to congratulate her on behalf of Samaritans volunteers everywhere.”

Dawn is expected to receive her BEM from the Lord Lieutenant at Hillsborough Castle later in 2018.

The New Year honours list also recognises the work of Samaritans in Cyprus, with an MBE for volunteer Sally Unsworth, who is a former Director of Samaritans on the island. Her award is for ‘services to charity and the British community in Cyprus’.

For more information, photos and interviews, please contact the press office on 07943 809 162 or 020 8394 8300 or email

Notes to editors:

  • Anyone can contact Samaritans in confidence for free from any phone on 116 123. Our number won’t show up on your phone bill. Or you can email, or visit to find details of your nearest branch, where you can talk to one of our trained volunteers face to face.
  • Samaritans is a charity and it’s the public’s kind donations and more than 20,000 trained volunteers that mean we are always there for anyone struggling to cope. Find out about volunteering and other ways to donate or support us at