"It's amazing the difference just talking to someone can make"
Each year more than five million phone calls are made to the Samaritans and for the past 30 years the charity’s Stratford branch has been playing a vital role in helping people.
This month saw Stratford Samaritans reach that landmark three decade anniversary and 2020 has been a busy year for the organisation with the pandemic contributing to an increase in calls nationally.
Back in the Spring things looked difficult for Stratford Samaritans with as many as 30 volunteers forced to self-isolate.
However the branch rose to the challenge, not dropping a single shift, a fantastic achievement in the circumstances.
Not only that but Stratford Samaritans have managed to train 33 new volunteers this year, despite the lockdown originally disrupting training.
Branch director Phil Cazaly, said: “The thing that distinguishes Stratford Samaritans is our facilities at Tyler House, for which we received a substantial grant from the Town Trust, they really help make our recruitment easier.
“Overall there has been a national increase in calls to the Samaritans during the pandemic and a great deal of calls are coronavirus related.
“Over our 30 years Stratford Samaritans has trained 720 volunteers and I think it’s great that the Samaritans sticks to its original ethics established in 1953, we want to make sure fewer people die by suicide.
“We want people to know that they can always call us, the NHS and mental health services may be under pressure, but we are always here to talk if people need us 24/7, it’s amazing the difference just talking to someone can make, it really helps clear the mind.
“It’s brilliant that Stratford Samaritans is celebrating 30 years, it’s a fantastic thriving branch.”
To celebrate the anniversary Phil was joined by Joe Greenwell, High Sherriff of Warwickshire, former directors John Best and Virginia von Malachowski and one of the branch’s founding volunteers Jan Roue, to cut a special celebratory cake.
During the event the High Sherriff’s Award, recognising Stratford Samaritans’ great and valuable service to the community, was received by Phil on behalf of the branch.
The success of Stratford Samaritans hasn’t come overnight, with a lot of hard work the branch has grown from small beginnings to get to where it is.
Back in 1988 concerns over the number of suicides in the local farming community prompted a former Samaritan volunteer living locally to investigate whether a Stratford branch could be established.
Such a proposal required the training of at least 70 new volunteers but by 1990 Stratford Samaritans took its first call, in a cramped room at Stratford Hospital, next to the mortuary, with no toilet.
Actors at the RSC showed their support by putting on a special performance at the Swan Theatre.
Solihull acted as Stratford’s ‘mother branch’ for its first six years, and in 1993 the branch was told that it had to leave the hospital, leading to a determined search for a new home.
That home, was eventually found in part of the former motor museum on Shakespeare Street, with Samaritans CEO Simon Armson officially opening it on 11 April 1994.
In 1996 Stratford Samaritans flew the nest of the Solihull branch and became a fully-fledged branch in its own right.
The dedication of volunteers in the early days saw the branch stay open every hour of every day, with overnight shifts manned from 10pm-7am in the early days.
Single beds were placed in the upstairs office so volunteers could catch some sleep between calls.
During this time Stratford also ran a weekly ‘Flying Squad’ rota, with two volunteers on call, available any time of the day or night to go out to callers.
This was phased out nationally around 2001 when safety became more of an issue.
By 2013 the branch had outgrown its home on Shakespeare Street and the hunt was once again on the hunt for new premises.
The next year Stratford Samaritans received a huge boost successfully bidding for £420,000 from the Town Trust, enabling it to secure a 25-year lease at Tyler House and call in architects and builders to transform the premises.
On 15 February 2016 the Samaritans took their first call at Tyler House and that May, singer Will Young officially opened the Stratford Samaritans Community Hub.
During his visit the pop star met local dignitaries and volunteers before delivering a moving speech about the work done by the Samaritans.
If you are interested in volunteering at the Samaritans visit www.samaritans.org