Recent outreach visits in Barnet have included meeting visitors at the Spires shopping centre, sessions to advise passengers and staff at high-risk railway and underground stations and talking school children at assembly, such as the boys at Queen Elizabeth’s School.
Since the completion last November of their new call centre on the site of a former tin tabernacle next to Bowes Park railway station, the North London Samaritans have been gearing up to offer the fullest possible range of support.
In addition to work places for up to three listening volunteers who are able to answer telephone calls simultaneously, there is a separate room at the call centre for face-to-face visits for those who might like a more in-depth conversation.
Over 200 call centres manned by the Samaritans across the country are linked together in a combined telephone and internet service.
Calls, texts and emails – and a call to the Samaritans’ free phone number 116 123 is being made every six seconds – are picked up by the first available listener.
On any evening or at night there might be two to three volunteers taking calls at Bowes Park on shifts ending at 1.30am or as late as 3am at weekends.
John Pyatt, volunteer director for North London Samaritans, said the opening of their new call centre following the rebuilding of the Shaftesbury Hall tabernacle, meant they could now offer enhanced support across the London boroughs of Haringey, Enfield and Barnet.
Most callers like the anonymity of our help
“We have 90 listening volunteers who take calls and a dozen support volunteers and we are doing all we can to develop our outreach work because suicide prevention is so important.
“For example, in Barnet we have done a lot of work at railway and underground stations, trying to reach out to those most at risk of suicide, training staff in managing suicidal contacts and offering trauma support after rail incidents.
“Another aspect of our outreach work is visiting schools and talking to pupils about how to cope with emotional or personal problems, especially in the lead up to GCSE or A-level exams, hence a recent talk during assembly at Queen Elizabeth’s School.”
Jacky Bishop, deputy volunteer director at Bowes Park, explained that the great strength of the Samaritans’ integrated telephone and internet service was that across the country there was always a volunteer somewhere ready to take a call.
“Often you can talk for a very long time and not be really sure what might have happened, or what the real problem is, but for me as a volunteer, it is a real privilege to be there for someone in their darkest moments and to be able to give them support.
“Most likely I wouldn’t even know where they are ringing from, that’s not important. Our aim is to help people deal with their emotional feelings and our work is completely confidential.
“Most callers like the anonymity of our help. They don’t want to say where they live, or give their name or age, so all we have is a voice to relate to and that is what we are engaging with.
Ms Bishop said the North London Samaritans would like to recruit more day-time volunteers.
“Lots of our volunteers have full time jobs and they tend to help with the evening and night shifts, but if we could recruit more volunteers who are free during working hours, we can expand out outreach work even further.”
The Shaftesbury Hall call centre is at the rear of the refurbished tabernacle which was erected in the 1880s as a place of religious worship for railway workers.
It was rebuilt at a cost of £800,000, with support from the Big Lottery Fund and donations from national and local charities and is available to rent for social and recreational activities.