At the end of last year we asked members to vote for the Charity that the Chamber would support at meetings in Sevenoaks, Swanley and Westerham from 1st April 2023. You chose Sevenoaks Samaritans.

We were able to support them with funds from our 2022 Golf Day and we look forward, with your help, to raising much more for them in 2023-24. We continue to support West Kent Mind and Tree of Hope at our networking meetings in Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells.

At a recent networking meeting Dave Hickson and Mike Bossick delivered the following talk:

Good Morning everyone.

My name is Dave and I’m the community relations lead at Sevenoaks Samaritans. I’m here with Mike, our Treasurer and one of the first training group who helped establish what is the newest branch of 200+ Samaritans branches in the Country.

It’s our pleasure to be here today to represent our 110 volunteers as The Chambers nominated Charity of the Year. We’d like to extend our heartfelt thanks for such a warm and supportive gesture. We have to totally self-fund ourselves and this kind of help is exactly what we rely on to deliver our service.

So I guess most of you will have heard of Samaritans and maybe have a rough idea of what we do as a Charity. In a nutshell….our aim is to reduce the number of deaths by suicide. We are a national helpline answering calls any time of day or night every day of the year. You don’t have to be suicidal to phone Samaritans. We are here for anyone struggling to cope and believe that suicidal thoughts can be interrupted, sometimes at a relatively early stage. We listen……..….very often to people who feel they don’t have a voice because nobody else listens to them.

These stats give you an idea of the scale of things. They all come from last year’s data:

Nationally, one of our 20,000+ Samaritans answered a call for help every 10 seconds.

We answered over a million calls, answered nearly 200,000 emails and took part in 50,000 on-line chats.

Approximately 1 in 4 of these calls were about suicidal thoughts or feelings.

40% of our callers were calling for the first time.

Mike will now give you a bit of background on how we established ourselves in Sevenoaks.

As Dave mentioned I am the Treasurer for Sevenoaks Samaritans and like Dave also a Listener. We thought it might be helpful to give you a quick summary of our history in Sevenoaks – which has been short but eventful.

In 2019 the Samaritans South Eastern region was looking to expand our listening service to make it accessible for more people and reduce the wait times for people trying to speak to us.  Sevenoaks was identified as a good location in which to base a new branch.  We thought there would be a deep untapped pool of community-minded volunteers that would be interested in becoming Samaritans. And as Dave mentioned this has been proved correct as we have grown to over 100 volunteers and we are always looking for more to keep expanding.

As we were starting from scratch the initial leadership was provided by experienced Samaritans from other branches in the region and the first batch of Sevenoaks-based volunteers were recruited and started training at the end of 2019.

Samaritans is very focussed on providing a high-quality and safe listening service and it takes around three months from starting training to taking your first solo call.

We never listen on our own or at home and we have some special IT to manage calls – which means we need premises to operate from.

Wanting to start small we found a small-shared office in the Citizens Advice Bureau just next to Sevenoaks Library.  We had just got going there in March 2020 when the first Covid lockdown stopped us in our tracks as these premises were too small to allow for social distancing.

Like many other organisations, it was tough for us to keep the show on the road through the initial Covid lockdown but eventually we found new premises and in October 2020 we reopened in our current office in St John’s Hill Sevenoaks – so we have been operating for just around 2 ½ years.

Whilst we are all unpaid volunteers at Sevenoaks Samaritans, we do have to fund our branch premises, travel and training, and meet all of the other costs of supporting our volunteers so that they can provide the best possible service to our callers.

As Treasurer I can confirm that financial support from the local Sevenoaks community is essential to keep us going and I would like to also add my thanks to the Chamber for nominating us as Charity of the Year.

Back to you Dave

I talked a bit earlier about what Samaritans do on a national level. At Sevenoaks we answer calls from all over the country, but we are also involved at a community level in a number of different ways. We have a group of our volunteers trained in what we call Outreach.

This Outreach team are very active in Sevenoaks providing emotional support outside of the 4 walls of our Hub. This has been in such areas as supporting Schools and Sports Clubs after suicides or traumatic events, working closely with National Rail with prevention, going into local Foodbanks to talk with their users and generally trying to raise awareness of our service via posters, leaflets and interactions with the Sevenoaks Community.

We also give talks on the skills involved with being able to spot someone struggling emotionally and the skills involved with being able to listen to them effectively. This is an ongoing programme which has seen us target vulnerable groups such as Young Adults and people hit by the cost-of-living crisis. The work the Outreach team do in spreading the word about awareness and supporting the Sevenoaks Community is our contribution back to Sevenoaks for the support we receive.

Our ongoing challenges are based around recruitment, fundraising and spreading awareness.

We need to keep a steady stream of trainees coming through to both build our numbers and replace the natural wastage caused by existing volunteers moving on. Every recruit takes a lot of effort to find, train, mentor and develop and we do all of that in-house at Sevenoaks.

We rely on donations and the fundraising efforts of our volunteers as we get no help with funding from the Central Charity. We need approximately £100 a day to keep us open and operational so once again I would like to offer our thanks to The Chamber, and you, its members for supporting us for the coming year.

Before I finish, I’d just like to mention an Open Day that we are having on 19th May. Everyone is welcome to come and see just how we operate and what it takes for us to provide such a vital service.