Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Human Interest: Interview with a Samaritans Volunteer

YOU can’t help but feel at ease around Kate Russell, she simply radiates warmth and kindness. Calm and collected, she sits in her Samaritans office, gently explaining what it is like to be a volunteer at one of Glasgow’s busiest branches.

“I started 21 years ago,” says Russell (57), “and I enjoy it a lot. It sounds like a silly word to use but it’s true. You get to meet incredible people at the Samaritans and sharing a worry helps make everything seem right.”

“Christmas is the busiest time of year, as it is a time for family,” says Russell. “There is pressure for people to be happy over this period but for a huge percent of the population this is simply not the case.

“We are there to offer confidential, emotional support to callers, and you will be surprised that people will talk about the most painful and intimate things within the first minute of conversation. I think that sometimes they just need to get things off their chest, and that is what we are there for.

The Samaritans is unique in the way it is run. There are 164 volunteers at the Glasgow city centre branch, and between them, the centre runs 24 hours a day, all year round.

“Work can get hard, especially when the calls are distressing or the person is actively suicidal. But we get training on how to cope in these circumstances and we get a lot of support from each other at the centre as well. Its like being part of an extended family.”

Not everyone contacts the Samaritans by phone however. “More and more people are getting in touch through face-to-face meetings, emails and letter writing. Texting is increasingly popular amongst teenagers too,” explains Russell. “We sometimes we get calls from people who contacted us, letting us know what’s been going on and people also ring to wish us a happy Christmas, and that is just wonderful.”

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