‘Someone listening at any time of year is a big help’

A samaritan at work - listening to a caller

A samaritan at work - listening to a caller

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In a world which seems a far cry from the berserk bargain hunting of the new year sales or a family huddled by the fireside safe from the winter weather, there are people who see this time of year as an opportunity to leave life behind.

Loneliness is the biggest problem the volunteers of the Samaritans have to deal with during and after the festive break.

At the one time of year when the importance of family and making those close to you feel special, some of us will have nothing.

The 60-year-old voluntary service, recently celebrated the milestone of helping some of the most vulnerable people in the country and their resources are being tested to the limits at the moment.

The Blackpool, Fylde and Wyre branch, on Blackpool’s Edward Street, has around 80 volunteers of all ages working for free to listen to those who find themselves in a crisis.

Volunteers do not offer advice or tell callers what to do, rather the charity provides emotional support to anyone who is struggling to cope or is in need of somewhere to explore their feelings.

Christine Jolly, branch director, joined the service in August 2006 and has been taking calls ever since.

She said: “The last thing we want is for someone who wants to contact us can’t because we aren’t here.

“There are many people who are down at Christmas but we also find there’s people who have gone to family or friends and when they get back, and are home alone, loneliness hits them.

“Issues we see all year round can often come together as people struggle financially and family issues can put under pressure.

“Whatever problem we are presented with we explore their feelings.

“Whether somebody is feeling suicidal, lonely or desperate we handle it the same by talking about their feelings.

“It’s often they are on their own and don’t have anyone to talk to when something troubling them gets bigger and bigger in their mind.

“Our great belief is that simply talking about feelings helps people formulate their thoughts.”

As well as calls the volunteers also reply to e-mails and text messages as smartphones provide a convenient way of getting help.

Volunteers can join the service at any time and go through nine modules of training before taking lifesaving calls.

“We have people here from different ages and all walks of life,” added Christine.

“There’s young people to retired people and it all fits in around their very different lives.

“It takes a special 20-year-old to be right for the job, but then again a 50-year-old might not be right.”

Angie Pascoe, chairman of the branch management committee, followed a friend into joining the Samaritans and believes people can often come to Blackpool from all over the country looking for a fresh start.

She added: “People think there are bright lights in Blackpool but they find it’s a lot easier than they thought.

“People can talk about their deepest thoughts and to someone they don’t know and will never know them.

“Someone listening at any time of year is a big help.”

Grandfather-of-one Robert Higgins, 81, from Norbreck, has answered calls for 12 years.

He added: “I saw some of their adverts and because I was bored after retiring I thought I could be of some use.

“I get a lot out of this job every time I’m on duty.

“We will get a lot of calls from people in flats who are alone.

“But the importance of someone being there for them and listening to calls is the biggest thing.”

Jim Dickinson, from Fleetwood, has been helping people at their lowest for the last 14 years.

He said: “At first I thought I would like to do something like this and called the Samaritans one day to find out how I could volunteer.

“We are here to take the calls and as soon as we go home there’s some one else to takeover and continue doing exactly the same.

Anyone interested in finding out about more information about the Samaritans can text ‘Sam info’ and their name to 60777.