We’ve all seen those little green signs placed along the Humber Bridge reminding us they’re there for us in our darkest moments.

And the chances are, someone you know - maybe even you - has called upon the Samaritans just for a friendly ear when times have been tough.

As the charity’s Hull branch celebrates six decades in business this year, we visited its unassuming offices on Spring Bank to find out what a typical shift is like for its 70 active volunteers who have to take some of the most emotionally difficult calls imaginable.

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Hull City Council will light the City Hall up in green on November 19, as it marks Hull Samaritans' 60th anniversary.

“You never know who’s on the other end when that phone is ringing,” said Rob Carlisle, who is director at Hull’s branch and has been a listener for eight years.

“Calls can range from someone who’s cat’s died to somebody standing on a bridge.”

Hull Samaritans director Rob Carlisle said they receive calls about every issue imaginable

Hull Samaritans responded to 11,000 calls last year, and had already taken 25 that day when Hull Live arrived just after lunch.

Nights are usually far busier, but the charity has people there to answer the phone at every hour of the day, every day.

There is often a misconception that Samaritans are purely there for those who are suicidal, but that is far from the case, Rob said.

“If it’s 2am and you’re struggling to get to sleep and just want someone to talk to, that’s what we’re here for," he said.

“There's no such thing as one call being more important than another. To us, the most important call in any one moment is the one coming through right there and then.”

On November 19, Hull Samaritans will have been taking calls from people in distress for sixty years – that’s millions of conversations which could have potentially saved a life, or just made a person’s day a little bit brighter.

Both outcomes are equally as important.

“I think another misconception about Samaritans is that, because of the name, we’re a Christian charity,” said fellow volunteer Rose Jenkinson.

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“Lots of people connect the name with the story in the Bible, but in fact we’re not connected to any religion at all. We have people of all different faiths volunteering for us.”

The Samaritans was founded in 1953 after Barton upon Humber-born vicar Chad Varah attended a funeral in London for a young woman who had taken her own life.

Moved by the waste of a young life, Varah went about setting “999 for the suicidal”.

As it grew, the British press dubbed the organisation “the good samaritans” after the Biblical tale about strangers helping a man attacked and left on a roadside.

Samaritans founder Chad Varah, who was born in Barton-Upon-Humber
Samaritans founder Chad Varah, who was born in Barton-Upon-Humber

The Samaritans was born, with Hull’s branch later coming to fruition in 1961.

Chad Varah passed away in 2007, and memorial gardens have since been created in Barton as a tribute.

But his greatest legacy is the half a million calls taken each year.

In 2020 as Covid-19 swept across Britain, the organisation responded to more than 544,000 calls, more 70% (390,000) of which mentioned coronavirus in some way.

Most calls were from adults (88%), although a small number were from children (3%).

And while the number of calls didn't see much change from the year before, the charity did see a 30% surge in the number of emails sent to them.

Calls range from someone whose cat's died to someone on the Humber Bridge

The average length of time of a call is 25 minutes, although some may last seconds while others talk to volunteers for hours.

“Sometimes you’ll have someone talking to you for two hours and you just sit here listening and saying nothing,” said Rob.

“So it can be very humbling when that person says, ‘you’ve really helped’.”

Call responders are not paid, giving up several hours of their time each week, but the Hull centre still needs about £30,000 a year to stay operational.

Hull Samaritans responded to 11,000 calls in 2020

Just being there for people at their most vulnerable is “the greatest privilege”, said Rose, who has been volunteering for three years.

Taking phone calls of such a hard-hitting nature is not without its emotional toll, of course, and the charity has measures in place to make sure its volunteers are looking after their own mental health, too.

Rose added: “It’s very much like a family. We always check in with each other after putting the phone down if it’s been a particularly difficult call.”

Anyone who wishes to volunteer for Hull Samaritans can sign up here, while donations can also be taken through the website.

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A book, titled 'Listen', has also been published by Hull Samaritans to document the charity's journey through lockdown and the work it continues to do. Proceeds from the book's sales will go towards keeping the centre up and running.

Anyone who needs to speak to Samaritans can call anonymously on 116 123 24 hours a day, seven days a week, free of charge.

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