A charity which has helped people all over the UK through some of their darkest times is celebrating 60 years in existence – and urging people to support its volunteers to carry on for 60 more.
Samaritans was founded in London in 1953 by Anglican priest Dr Chad Varah after he conducted the funeral of a 14-year-old girl who had taken her own life – and he vowed at her graveside to devote himself to helping other people overcome the sort of isolation she had suffered.
The first call to the service was made on November 2, 1953, and this date is recognised as Samaritans’ official birthday.
The charity has provided its 24/7 service for those in need in Belfast since 1961.
In 2012, Samaritans, which has eight offices across Northern Ireland, responded to more than 24,000 calls at its Belfast branch.
The only time the office has ever been closed was for around two hours in the 1980s when a bomb exploded near the Lisburn Road branch and blew in the windows.
During that time, BT took the calls and relayed the message that the office was closed.
To mark the 60th anniversary, BT is giving free advertising space to Samaritans this month on its telephone kiosks across the UK and Ireland.
Charity supporter Tim McGarry said the importance of the work carried out by Samaritans cannot be underestimated.
“I’m a big admirer of Samaritans and the volunteers who freely give up their time to help others,” he said.
“I know the huge impact they can make on people’s lives.
“Hearing a friendly local voice at the end of a phone at a time of crisis or difficulty is extremely important. Congratulations on your 60th birthday.”
The need for the charity’s work has not lessened in the past six decades, said Belfast branch director Pamela James, adding that it may be even greater with the stresses and strains of modern-day life.
“We are pleased to be marking the 60th of Samaritans and paying tribute to our many volunteers past and present who for 53 of those 60 years have supported people within our city and beyond, through difficult times in their lives, particularly through many dark days of the Troubles,” she said.
“Unfortunately services such as Samaritans are needed now more than ever; modern life and a rapidly changing world have not eclipsed the human need we all have to be listened to, supported and helped through difficult times.
“In this climate there can be no complacency on the part of any agency involved in suicide prevention.”
Members of the public are being asked to give £3 by texting SUPPORT to 70123.
You can call the Samaritans on 08457 90 90 90 (UK), 1850 60 90 90 (ROI), email firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.samaritans.org.