South Devon Samaritans: Volunteering is good for the soul 

Torbay Weekly

Dean Sanders, branch director, South Devon Samaritans:

Yesterday, I was speaking with a good friend of mine who is also a listening volunteer at South Devon Samaritans.

Sadly, he’s in Torbay Hospital and quite unwell but he’s inspirational in his ability to try to stay positive, as are very many of the people that I have the honour of volunteering with.

Until recently, this person was still doing three-hour shifts in our branch until his health would no longer allow it, then he continued to do remote ‘skills calls’ for our new Samaritans who were going through the first part of their training.

In fact, when he was training, two-and-a-half years ago, I was his mentor.

All of our new Samaritans spend a minimum of six shifts with a mentor for help, support and guidance.

Some people need this more than others and that, of course, is perfectly fine.

My friend was one of those really annoying people, you know the type, you’re there to help them learn and you find out that on day one they’re already a natural and much better at it than you’ll ever be!

We spent a while talking about how it was going at Samaritans and it led us onto the topic of why people volunteer (in general) and what makes people volunteer with us.

Although it’s not a requirement to share this information with us, when asked, our new Samaritans tell us a wide variety of reasons why they wanted to volunteer at Samaritans.

Some, probably quite a few, have used our service in the past at a difficult time and since then they have thought of volunteering with us.

Some have tried to help friends or relatives through desperate situations and some would simply like to give something back to society and learn some new skills.

This short list of reasons is definitely not exhaustive, just some of the common responses.

There are very few bad reasons for wanting to volunteer but there are some.

Whatever the reasons for volunteering at the start of the journey, many of us didn’t realise just how wonderfully rewarding the experience would be, how much we would learn and how it would change us forever.

This perhaps explains in part why so many volunteers stay with us for life – it's good for the soul.

What binds all of our volunteers together though is empathy for people and a deep desire to help people in despair.

Being there for someone when they need to talk, at their time of need.

There really is no other prerequisite to becoming a listening volunteer with Samaritans other than the natural empathy possessed by most people - I have an unwavering faith in human nature - and the time commitment that you’ll need to complete training and then put in the shifts.

Sure, being able to use a computer will help, but we can teach you that. Some listening skills will also help, but we can teach you that too.

What surprises many is that we have 18-year-olds at college who are just as capable as the volunteers that have been with us for 10 years or more.

We don’t give advice, so while life experiences may help us to ‘connect’ more with a caller, they aren’t necessary to provide our service.

We have a very strong support structure that literally looks after and protects us, we wouldn’t be able give emotional support in the way that we do without that, it’s vital.

In my own experience as a new Samaritan, not so long ago, I could feel this support at every turn and now, as branch director I feel it more than ever.

But it’s much more than that, much more than the organisational structure of the support, it feels like being part of a family of like-minded people and it’s partly what has given me – or restored in me – that faith in human nature.

My friend and many others that I’ve met along the way may not be able to contribute directly anymore but they will always be a part of the Samaritans family of volunteers.

If you, or someone you know needs to talk, we are here to listen. Call free on 116123 anytime, alternatively you can email: If you’re interested in Volunteering with us or you would like to donate, go to