Earlier this week I was a guest at the re-opening of the offices of the Bristol branch of the Samaritans. I visited them a few years ago at their St Nicholas Street base. The rabbit warren of rooms I saw then has now been transformed into a modern office suite, fit for the purpose of listening and giving comfort to distressed people. There are even bed rooms for the volunteers on night shifts.
Bristol Samaritans started in 1964 and it is now one of the biggest branches in the country with over 200 volunteers. In fact everyone is a volunteer – only the office cleaner gets paid. The branch funds all of its activities from donations. Many of the volunteers were there for the re-opening, including Cyril a founder volunteer 47 years ago, now in his 90s and still a listener. I met many volunteers who I know from other parts of my life including a former neighbour and a friend from my gym. The Big Society has been going in Bristol for a long time…
In 1964 the then Lord Mayor unveiled the plaque and made the first telephone call. The current Lord Mayor did the same on Monday. I then unveiled a new picture drawn by a volunteer, Stevie. He has also been a prison listener, hearing the concerns of inmates of Horfield gaol. I met a group of listeners on my last visit to the prison.
The Samaritans offer a confidential 24/7 emotional support service for anyone feeling distress or despair. The Bristol branch can be contacted on 0117 983 1000. You can also have a conversation in person with a volunteer. See http://www.samaritans.org/bristol/ for more details if you need help or want to become a Samaritan yourself.