Samaritans’ Jenni McCartney tells BBC Radio 4 how volunteering changed her life
Samaritans’ leading volunteer and Chair of Trustees, Jenni McCartney, will be profiled in the first edition of a new series of BBC Radio 4’s programme The Listeners on Tuesday 22 December.
Jenni McCartney, who represents the charity’s 21,000 volunteers, took over as Chair just under a year ago. Originally from the West Coast of Scotland, she became a volunteer when she moved to Hampshire in 1983, and still volunteers at her local branch.
The Listeners profiles a range of people from all walks of life where listening is key to their role. In this episode, Jenni McCartney looks back at how she became a Samaritans volunteer, the power of listening, and how being a Samaritans volunteer has had a positive impact on her personal and professional life.
Jenni, whose background is in IT, found it a revelation that just listening to a person struggling to cope could mean so much to them.
In the interview, Jenni said: “I joined Samaritans almost by accident because I was thinking it was time to do some volunteering or something in the community, and while I was thinking about that the local paper came through the door with a flyer for Samaritans in it, and I rang up and talked to somebody about it … and two weeks later I was being trained.
“I think more interestingly in a way for me is why I’m still a Samaritan, because 30 years is a long time to keep doing something - and partly it’s the people I’ve spoken to, that I feel I’ve made a difference to - but I, like many people, do know someone who took their own life many, many years ago, long before I was a Samaritan, and when I found out what Samaritans did and how powerful it was, it just makes me want to keep doing that, so there’s somebody there for the lady I know who took her own life.
“I think listening is absolutely crucial to what we do. There is something about having somebody’s full attention, that must be very powerful because people do open up in amazing ways, and tell us some amazing things about their lives, and it’s a great privilege sometimes to be the first person that they’ve talked to about that issue - we don’t think we’ve got the answers to problems - but we are good at listening and drawing people out - and help them find a way to say the difficult stuff, and talk about how they really feel.
“For me it is about giving them a calm oasis of peace and time where nobody’s rushing them, and so they can just keep going and find their own pace. We’re not in a hurry we’re on their time clock.
“Being a Samaritan has made a big difference to my life and around the listening in particular; when I was still working I was in sales and I certainly listened far better to my customers than I did before, and to most of my colleagues, actually. In general I think it has made me a calmer person and I think I feel differently about myself because of it, because I think I’m a good listener.”
The programme featuring Jenni McCartney will be broadcast at 9pm on Tuesday 22 December on BBC Radio 4, and repeated at 3.30pm on Wednesday 23 December, as well as being available here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b06s9d2d
Samaritans relies almost entirely on donations to run its 201 branches and train more than 21,000 dedicated volunteers, without whom it could not operate its life-saving services for those who need them most. If you would like to support Samaritans by making a donation, you can find out how you can help at: http://www.samaritans.org/christmas
To find out more about Samaritans, or to interview Jenni McCartney, please contact Samaritans’ press office on 020 8394 8300, or email email@example.com.
Photos are available to accompany this release.
Notes to editors
- Samaritans is available round the clock, every single day of the year, providing a safe place to talk for anyone who is struggling to cope, whoever you are and whatever life has done to you. Please call 116 123 (this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill), or email firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit to find details of your nearest branch.
- More than 6,000 people die by suicide every year in the UK. Nearly 80% are men and male suicide rates are at their highest level since 2001. Deprivation is a major risk factor too. People living in poorer areas of the UK are ten times more likely to die by suicide.