South Devon Samaritans: ‘How we have coped during Lockdown’

Whatever you’re facing Samaritans of South Devon are STILL there to listen.

That’s the message as the local branch explains how it has coped during lockdown?

In “normal” times 100 listening volunteers cover 44 shifts a week, always with two volunteers working together. But Covid 19 changed all that in and, at times there were as few as 60 Samaritans able to work.

Robert, director of the branch, based in Warren Road, Torquay says:, “Our callers are our highest priority so, when we prepared as a Region for the effects of the pandemic and subsequent lockdown, our branch agreed to cover 12 ‘emergency rota’ shifts as a coordinated approach to ensure that we were still here 24 hours a day, every day.

“At the start of the lockdown, 40 per cent of our volunteers began self-isolating and therefore couldn’t do any shifts. Many of those volunteers also help the branch by taking on other roles such as fundraising, outreach, prisons, and training. All of those essential jobs, and more, have presented us with some unique challenges.

“But it could have been much worse. The original rules on not travelling raised fears that our volunteers would not be able to come in. We needed clarity. Then on March 24, Liz Twist, MP and Samaritans volunteer, asked the Secretary of State for Health whether Samaritans could travel to their branches to answer phones. He was unequivocal. “Yes. It is acceptable. It is right that volunteers in that sort of work, for example Samaritans, should travel to do it.”

“We could carry on!”

Robert continues: “We appealed to our remaining volunteers to fill our shifts – and they did! It’s remarkable that so few people could cover for so many who weren’t able to be there. For some this was possible because they now had more free time on their hands because they were furloughed.

“All of those who could have given so much of their time willingly and without complaint. I, and our callers, are indebted to them”.

During the first month of lockdown just about every caller contact contained some reference to Covid-19 and then, as time went on, many callers described feeling lonely and isolated. These concerns are beginning to diminish as lockdown restrictions are loosened and there are fewer calls about the virus. However, the issues are still there and adding to the pressures our callers are already experiencing.”

Many of South Devon’s Samaritans have now been able to return to listening duties - and 10 new Samaritans volunteers have been trained during the crisis. They too are now talking to callers.

Luke, Deputy Director for Training, recalls: “A new training group started the week before lockdown, getting together for an introduction to the learning process. We knew we might not be able to hold the five-weekly face to face training sessions of the ‘Core Development’ training programme for new Samaritans. So, we arranged to do these through webinars.

“With the help of my training team and many of the self-isolating volunteers who did a great job helping with the vital ‘skills practice’ calls remotely, the new volunteers completed the training without leaving their homes. Then they paired up with mentors in the branch to begin to take calls. It was extremely rewarding to be involved with this during lockdown.”

Director, Robert says: “There is less pressure on the rota now but, in line with our risk assessments, we still have strict social distancing, cleaning and hygiene measures in place. I can report that none of our volunteers have contracted Covid-19”

If you’d like to become a Samaritan, training starts again in early July and you can register your interest by calling their recruitment line on 07531 789828 or emailing sdsamsvolunteering@hotmail.com

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