A new home for Western Isles branch!

Samaritans of the Western Isles will soon be providing their confidential listening service in a new purpose-built premises thanks to the generous support of the local Stornoway community and funding from NHS Western Isles and Comhairle nan Eilean Siar.

The branch, one of the smallest in the UK with 17 volunteers, was established in 1994 and Western Isles Samaritans have operated from various rented properties over the years, but have not found a suitable home.

Thanks to an award of £47,000 from Choose Life towards the cost of suitable permanent premises in January 2008, they were able to improve their current building, spending £5,000 on improvements. They considered buying the property, however the building required significant structural work, costing more than the branch could afford. They were also looking for a larger space to accommodate the expanding number of volunteers.

Last summer after a lengthy search for the right property, they identified an ideal venue within a new development of office units in the town center. Branch Chair Angus MacLeod tells of what inspired them to take the next step: ’The builder told us that we could tailor the building to our specific needs and we realized it had great potential. There was plenty of space for our expanding volunteer membership in a larger, purpose-built duty room. We would no longer have to rent somewhere to hold our AGM and we could ensure there was disabled access and somewhere private for face-to-face visitors. The view across to the castle was not bad either!

Raising the funds

The branch committee knew that raising money in the current economic climate was not going to be easy, however the first funding application was sent in July 2011, followed by a further 10 and in September 2011 an application to the Gannochy Trust was successful and they awarded the branch £15,000. Following this success, they received £19,800 from the Western Isles Council’s Community Regeneration Fund and shortly after, two cheques arrived on the same day each for £2000 from The Russell Trust and PF Charitable Trust.

Applications to local Councillors paid off with donations totaling £900 from a number of wards. Then a cheque for £250 came from the James T Howat Charitable Trust.

Angus tells of the challenging process of fundraising: “We had £82,000 and we required a further £23,000 but we were running out of steam after making 30 funding applications, not including the Councillors’. Someone suggested I contact the Stornoway Gazette as they might consider a feature highlighting our need for funding and our need for new premises. They were keen to help and featured an article.”

With the help of a Council staff member who circulated details of their capital build project, news of the branch’s need for funding reached NHS Western Isles. Angus approached the Chief Executive with a request for £23,000 with the knowledge that the new branch would improve facilities for the volunteers to provide the vital listening service and Samaritans would be helping the NHS in their aim to reduce the number of suicides in the Western Isles.

The  same  day,  a  cheque  for  £10,000  arrived  from  Garfield Weston  Foundation.  This  left £13,000 still to raise.

Community Spirit

The Stornoway Gazette, which has long supported the work of Western Isles Samaritans, offered to do a follow-up feature with volunteer profiles, highlighting that they were still looking for £13,000 to buy their premises. Ten of the staff from the Gazette have also committed to running a 10k race to raise money for Samaritans at the end of May. Meanwhile, students at the local college held a raffle and raised £80 for the branch.

At the beginning of May, Angus was delighted to report that he had received confirmation from Gordon Jamieson, Chief Executive of NHS Western Isles that they would make up the rest of the funding, finally allowing Western Isles Samaritans to purchase their own branch.

Plans for the new branch

Building work is now underway and Angus and the branch committee are working with the builders to ensure it suits their needs.

With huge thanks to all their supporters, Angus and the branch members are thrilled that, after 18 years in rented properties, they will finally have their own Samaritans branch from which to continue providing crucial support to those in need of someone to talk to and to remain a vital part of the 24/7 service that Samaritans provides across the UK.