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STUDENT VOICES: A Student’s Experience of Volunteering with Samaritans

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I am a second year nursing student at Brighton University, based at Falmer campus. I have been volunteering with the Brighton, Hove and District branch of Samaritans for just over two years now.

A common misconception is that Samaritans is a religious organisation. The organisation was given the name back in the 1950s by the then tabloid press, the link being made between the parable of the ‘Good Samaritan’ and the fact that the organisation started its life in the back room of a church in London. Samaritans today is not a religious organisation and has over 200 branches across the UK and Republic of Ireland. Brighton, Hove and District Samaritans is a registered charity that offers support to anyone going through a difficult time in his or her life. It is a safe place where anything can be discussed in complete confidence via telephone, email, text or face to face within the branch.

Volunteers come from a variety of different backgrounds, which is great as I’ve been able to meet lots of people that I may have never come across in my everyday life. The volunteers that make up the branches reflect the towns that they are situated in, so the Brighton, Hove and District branch has volunteers from all ages and walks of life, including students. In order for the branch to be open 24/7, volunteers commit to 15 credits a month, which includes one unsociable shift per month and one weekend shift every 6 weeks. Shifts are booked using a web-based rota, and I have found it easy to fit these in around my studies and social life.

I first expressed an interest in volunteering with Samaritans as I have had some personal experience with mental illness. I was lucky enough to be supported through a difficult time and wanted the opportunity to be there for other people. It has been a real privilege at times to talk things through with people, especially when I have been the first person a caller has been able to discuss their concerns with. Obviously some very difficult topics can come up, but you are never alone on shift and there is a fantastic support network within each branch.

The training I received has enabled me to develop many skills over the past couple of years, including active listening and resilience. I have gained confidence within myself, and am comfortable in building a rapport with others. Samaritans don’t give advice, which I find can be quite freeing as it gives the opportunity to really explore how a caller is feeling without having to tell them what to do, or offer an opinion.

The process from selection to completing training, mentoring and becoming a full member of the branch can take as long as a year.  There are 30 hours of initial training spread over 6 half or full day sessions, followed by a period where you are mentored by an experienced volunteer. This can be hard working out how to fit in shifts together when you are on different weekly work/life patterns, but once the mentored period is over, there is more freedom and flexibility to choose the shifts that fit in with your lifestyle.

If you are interested in volunteering, visit the website and click on Volunteer at this Branch to receive an information pack and an invite to an information event. Each event lasts between an hour and an hour and a half, and is held in the Brighton Hove & District Samaritans branch located by Hove train station.

By Simon England

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