A lifeline service for people in Cornwall who are suicidal or in crisis is being funded for an entire year by the Isles of Scilly Steamship Group’s Community Fund.
Cornwall Samaritans’ emergency room answers phone calls, texts, emails and drop-ins from people in their hour of need.
The service, run by 120 volunteers, costs £3,380 a year to run – and is being met this year by the Community Fund, a way for the Steamship Group to give something back to the community it serves.
Sue Wright, Director of Cornwall Samaritans, said: “There are no words to properly express how much this means to us – we are so grateful to the Steamship Group for its generosity.
“Cornwall has one of the highest rates of suicide in the country and our emergency room without a doubt helps to save lives.
“We are entirely run by volunteers, so this is one less thing for us to worry about raising money for. If it wasn’t for the Community Fund donation, we’d be raising money by tin rattling, raffles, events and donations.”
In March 2019, Cornwall Samaritans, based in Truro, answered 2,687 phone calls to its helpline, as well as replying to 311 emails, 221 texts and dealing with 21 people face-to-face.
People get in touch with all kinds of problems including relationships, illness, financial, mental health, loneliness, grief, self-harm and even Brexit.
Sue said: “People contact us when they are suicidal or in distress. For some of our callers we are a last resort – it takes a lot of courage for people to ring us.
“A lot of people put the phone down 10 or 15 times before they are able to speak, and we have a lot of silent calls where people just can’t talk. We can stay on the line in silence for 20 to 30 minutes, just so they know somebody is there. We never turn people away.
“When people want to talk, we listen to how they are feeling. We don’t offer advice or solutions, we are just there. We don’t judge and it’s totally confidential.
“One in five calls is from someone feeling suicidal, but it’s important to say that you don’t have to be suicidal to call the Samaritans.”
As well as the listening service, Samaritans make phone calls to people in need who have been referred from agencies such as Cornwall Housing and the Royal Cornwall Hospital’s accident and emergency department.
Samaritans also raise awareness by talking to schools and community groups, hopefully preventing people getting to the point of needing help.
Volunteers manning the phone lines are given five weeks of intensive training and work three hour shifts during the daytime and four-and-a-half hour shifts at night.
Their dedication knows no bounds. One volunteer has been with Cornwall Samaritans for 44 years. Another makes a 98-mile round trip from her home in Tintagel to the emergency room in Truro.
Retired journalist Chris Young became a Samaritan in 2012. “I loved being a reporter, but I saw some terrible poverty, hardship and injustices around the world,” he said. “I also felt slightly guilty about having such a fantastic time for 47 years as a reporter and not doing anything more worthwhile. So I became a Samaritan.
“I was scared stiff when I took my first call, and when people cry down the phone it can really get to me. It’s emotional and demanding but I’m really, really proud of being a Samaritan.”
David Hughes decided to volunteer for Cornwall Samaritans when he found he couldn’t talk to a friend who was suffering from depression. “I didn’t know how to,” explained David. “During my time as a teacher, a girl in my tutor group decided to end her pain by launching herself from the top of a building.
“About the same time, a colleague in the same school also took his own life. The sad thing in these events was that both suicides were very deliberately swept away and not talked about. It was as if they had never existed.
“If, all those years ago, I had the training to be able to offer support, maybe that young girl in my tutor group might now be a grown woman and my colleague might be a happy grandad. For me there was only one thing to do – volunteer.”
Sharon Sandercock, Marketing and Communications Manager for the Isles of Scilly Steamship Company, said: “I’m delighted that through the fund we have been able to support the important work that the Samaritans carry out. The scale of the need is sadly quite shocking, and I hope the financial contribution helps secure the service provided by some amazing volunteers. Our thanks go to all involved.”
The Community Fund has so far awarded more than £60,000 to dozens of projects ranging from a set of new judo mats for a club on St Marys, to a life-saving defibrillator for the Ronnie Richards Memorial Charity in Penzance.
It was first launched in 2016 and is part of an estimated £1 million that the Steamship Group returns to the community every year through subsidised travel for islanders, NHS flights, sponsorships and charitable donations.
Bids to the Community Fund are open to voluntary groups or charities, schools and education establishments, community clubs or societies, and individuals undertaking not-for-profit projects for the benefit of the wider community.
Full details, eligibility criteria and application forms are now available from the Steamship Group’s website. All projects are judged by members of an independent panel.