“It’s about people and making sure they are loved and cared for” - volunteering for Samaritans at Christmas time

(28 Posts)
JuliaMumsnet (MNHQ) Mon 06-Dec-21 14:20:05

Ahead of the Christmas holidays when many feel unbearably stressed or lonely, Laura Cooke, freelance journalist and former Samaritans volunteer, talks to Samaritans volunteer Lyndsey (left) about the Christmas shift and about myths such as having to be suicidal to call.

"We all have our Christmas traditions, whether that be tearing open presents under the tree, watching the Queen’s speech or arguing over the rules of Monopoly.

But for mum-of-one Lyndsey Nichols, volunteering at Samaritans has become as much of a festive tradition as tucking into a turkey dinner.
Lyndsey has been a listening volunteer at the charity’s Worthing branch since she was 18, and in the 16 years since, her life has undergone many changes, but Samaritans has remained a reassuring constant.

Lyndsey said: “When I started I was in my first full time job, fancy-free and all the rest of it. It saw me through my divorce from my first husband and I married my second husband who I met through Samaritan shifts. We have a little boy who is four and I’m now a mum and a Sam. “It’s been part of our lives and I couldn’t imagine life without it.”

For many years, Lyndsey helped to man the phones on Christmas Day or Boxing Day, answering a handful of the 10,000 calls which are made to the charity daily.

She said: “I often used to do a 2 to 3pm shift which was nice because you get to spend a little bit of time with family but then you can step away from all that and do something that wasn’t about presents or discussing why the turkey was dry. It was just about being there for people and hearing what their Christmas was like.”

Lyndsey added: “Christmas comes up an awful lot as people talk about feeling stressed or feeling lonely. “The overall impression was that family, or lack of, is something that people really struggle with. And I’m sure we can all relate to that.”

Some years Lyndsey would travel to London with Sams volunteers from across the country to volunteer at Crisis at Christmas, a unique volunteering effort to provide warmth, companionship and vital services to people facing homelessness. It proved an eye-opening experience for Lyndsey. She said: “I came away and felt really uncomfortable about presents and that. It’s about being the best person you can be, being kind to people, not about the amount of presents, matching Christmas trees and Instagram likes.

“It’s about people and making sure they are loved and cared for.”
She added: “Hopefully one year I would like to take my little boy with me and do something volunteer-wise. I would love for us as a family to do something at Christmas which is not about presents and food and material stuff.”

Working a full-time job and with her son at a tender age, Lyndsey is not able to go into the branch this Christmas, but instead will be offering vital emotional support over the phone to volunteers as a shift leader on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve.

She explains: “I’m there remotely for anyone who needs help after their shift or if anyone has a call they’re not sure about, for example a safeguarding call or signposting. "We are there for primarily support and to make sure volunteers are OK and can talk about how they handled a call.”

It is a common misconception that you have to be suicidal to call Samaritans. In reality, you can get in touch about anything that’s troubling you, no matter how large or small the issue feels.

Lyndsey recalls: “I remember phoning one morning before work after having a horrendous morning and trying to get a two-year-old ready and out the door. I really needed someone to hear what I was feeling. “I spoke to someone for 15 minutes, calmed down and that was all I needed. I’m sure there are lots of people out there who have those mornings but do not realise they can pick up the phone and be heard in that moment.”

Lyndsey also found calling the Samaritans useful when she was struggling with a seven-month-old baby. She explained: “I had a really difficult day with my boy and I really struggled. I thought I was a crap mum, I can’t cope with this. I found babies boring and I felt properly lonely.

“I picked up the phone and spoke to the most amazing lady. My biggest fear was if I told someone how I felt, like the health visitor or doctor, they would come along and say ‘yes you are a rubbish mum and we will take that baby away from you’.

“I did not want to tell my friends as they were all loving maternity leave and I did not want to feel like a failure in front of them. “I just wanted a safe place to say it. She did not judge me for it and held the space for me and stopped me feeling like a complete failure.”

Lyndsey added: “When I listen to new mums on the phone, I know it was not just me."

“A lot of women feel like this, but they don’t talk about it or put it on social media.”

And Lyndsey has a vital message for anyone who feels they may need support at any time over the festive period.

“It takes courage to pick up the phone and all you will find at the other end is support. And if you have had even a fleeting thought of phoning, I would say phone. Because you are worth every second of that phone call and deserve that support. We all do.”

Anyone can contact Samaritans free any time from any phone on 116 123, even a mobile without credit. This number won’t show up on your phone bill. Or you can email jo@samaritans.org or visit the website. Laura Cooke is a freelance journalist and you can find her on twitter here.

OP’s posts: |
Ruralbliss Tue 07-Dec-21 19:03:39

What a great post.

I wish I'd know about the Samaritans when I recently suffered an unexpected crisis and sandwiched between work, teens, elderly parents found myself going into a downwards tailspin with no one to talk to. It was t serious enough for a gp appointment but I was appalled at my low energy and the tip the house quickly became plus my ineffectiveness at work.

I'll put the number of Sams in my phone in case I need them again.

I'm now inspired by this post to volunteer when time allows. A friend's brother does so will enquire how to sign up.


nancybotwinbloom Tue 07-Dec-21 21:49:52


Can I ask if you get any details on how to apply you could post here?

Wendyer Tue 07-Dec-21 22:39:36

If you go to Samaritans.org there’s lots of info there and an application form.

happystory Wed 08-Dec-21 12:11:21

Fantastic! I have family members who volunteer for Samaritans and know what a great organisation it is, including caring for its valued volunteers.

Robin233 Thu 09-Dec-21 08:05:56

Really great post. When my marriage broke up and I had a one year old I actually went to the centre. They were lovely (gave my toddler some chocolate).
And there is one guy I spoke to over the phone to in 2015 who I shall be eternally grateful to. I can't even remember his name but everything he said was spot on and I wish I could let him know, that even though it took a few years everything worked out in ways you could not imagine.
Thank you.

Redsquirrel5 Thu 09-Dec-21 17:21:54

My daughter’s partner volunteered when he moved and all through Uni and continued. It made me think what a really lovely person he is. He lost his mum a few years ago so I imagine that he will be of great support to others as they helped nurse her until the end.


Anotherbrokenairer Sat 11-Dec-21 04:37:51

Hmm my only contribution to this is when my daughter called she was told she can't be suicidal because if she was she'd have just done it instead of calling them!!

AutomaticMoon Sat 11-Dec-21 05:13:39

@Anotherbrokenairer I’m so sorry, that’s awful. I’ve had similar experiences, it’s like a kick in the face when you’re already down.

Anotherbrokenairer Sat 11-Dec-21 10:56:52

She's been let down so much that's not even the worse thing someone with a duty of care has said to her!

MrsTumbletap Sat 11-Dec-21 16:13:38

Do you need certain qualifications to volunteer? I would like to help if you need it.

happystory Sat 11-Dec-21 16:59:19

You don't need any qualifications, but you do go through a training programme and are mentored before you 'go it alone' on the phones...

Brevet1000 Sat 11-Dec-21 19:38:28

Would be volunteers, it might be worth reading this thread first. www.mumsnet.com/Talk/womens_rights/4312700-The-Samaritans-a-Specific-Demographic

WildMaryBerriesWithBrandyCream Sun 12-Dec-21 11:47:15

It is a really worthwhile thing to do if you can.

I volunteered a year ago and have been training and listening ever since. What is below is based on my own experience - I am not an official representative 🙂.

Samaritans are volunteers and the organisation is not connected with the NHS or any government funding. (People often think that we are. )

We each do a 3 hour shift a week and one 6 hour night shift a month. Some volunteers add to this with other roles (fixing things-raising money-directing branches - and training new volunteers)

I read in the press last summer about some Samaritans misusing their position -a very troubling thought-but I have not seen anything remotely like this. Of course, there are predators and abusers in most places but it is still hard to imagine.

The training to be a Samaritan (at our branch) takes about a year... though I think that you continue to learn all the time you answer phones. Listening is quite a skill.

You can't 'work from home' as a Samaritan but always speak to callers in a place where you have support from other Samaritans. This is important because some calls are very distressing/moving.

Most of the Samaritans in our branch are female- of mixed ages. Some work - some are students -some are parents of young children-and some are retired .

The calls vary tremendously but by far the majority I have taken this year have been from people who are suffering isolation, deep sadness, a terrible time in their lives, and or suicidal feelings. Some call about huge and serious matters; some call about smaller things that are really troubling them. Some are bereaved. Some struggle with mental health. Some are alone. Many think they shouldn't call because they or their troubles aren't important enough. There are endless reasons why people need to call. They all really do need to be listened to and to talk things through without burdening or frightening people they know and are close to.

There are callers who misuse the service and call just to be abusive or for some kind of phone sex. These are not a high proportion of the callers. (I have not had any of these call me in the last three weeks.) However it is irritating that they take any time from people who genuinely need the service.

Such misusers can be barred if they try to be abusive a few times and Samaritans do end such calls as quickly as they wish. (We are trained to deal with these calls -they can be horrible-and we are supported if they distress us. )

I have found this year of training and volunteering very rewarding -the Samaritans do a really important job. Learning to really listen properly has had effects on my life outside too. I am much more aware of the way people don't get opportunities to talk when they really need to.

CoconutQueen Sun 12-Dec-21 19:04:14

I've been a Samaritan for well over 20 years. It's one of the best things I have ever done with my life, and it's made me who I am. The values, ethics and skills that I have learnt there are instilled into all areas of my life now, and are massively useful in no end of situations with family, work shituations (not a typo), hugely helpful in dealing with kids and more. Those skills are ingrained deeply now and have made me me. They are a brilliant organisation if you need help and a brilliant organisation if you want to help.

Wendyer Sun 12-Dec-21 19:34:07

I could have written your post almost @CoconutQueen - 10 years only though. I give quite a lot of my time weekly - listening duties, training, mentoring, outreach - and I don’t begrudge a minute.

WildMaryBerriesWithBrandyCream Sun 12-Dec-21 23:07:51

It is good to hear this from you both.
It gives me hope that I'll still be doing this in 20 or 30 years.

EiriniG Tue 14-Dec-21 23:02:10

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

EiriniG Tue 14-Dec-21 23:19:55

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

Liv0309 Sun 19-Dec-21 16:13:10

I cant deal with my toddlers, almost 3,5 and almost 2 year olds in the house not to mention a german shepherd puppy… getting a puppy was a blow to my knee but thats beside the point. My kids scream and cry all day long i dont get any peace at all, the min they wake up everything upsets them, wrong cup, wrong socks, i smiled at them wrong, i put on youtube but not the vid they wanted or they fight over which video gets played but they don't communicate in anything other than hitting each other or me and crying non stop, my 3,5 year old talks so well as well so i don't get why she cries SO DAMN MUCH, she wont come through to my room when she wakes at night, she will sit on the bed and cry until i come get her, they refuse to eat, cant remember the last time they had a meal that wasn't snacks, older one gags on normal stuff and will only eat a few things, younger just refuses to even try stuff and tips the whole thing onto the floor. I cant sit down they're on me 24/7, i cant go and cook, clean i cant do anything because it upsets them when i try to do anything other than pay attention to them, i don't have any help with them, no one is ever available, i end up stress eating junk food, not a good example to kids either.. i just feel soooo drained i cant cope with any more screams and cries and fights, they dont nap, they refuse to go to sleep until about 11 pm.. dont listen to a word i say and thats not even half of the stuff they do 😩😩😩

What do you mums do to manage this better? Im out of ideas i cant keep going like this

microbean Sun 19-Dec-21 16:51:17

DS has booked an easyJet to Geneva for January skiing in France. Obviously he cannot go as France are not allowing tourists. EasyJet are refusing to give him money back as he is flying to Geneva which is in Switzerland. He was going with a group of friends and it is impossible to change all the accomodation etc to Switzerland. Has anyone else had this same problem? I imagine Switzerland will soon follow same rules as France but who knows.

JuliaMumsnet (MNHQ) Mon 20-Dec-21 13:35:36

Hi @Liv0309 and @microbean - I'm not sure if you meant to post here, but if you'd like advice from other Mumsnetters, this may not be the right place to do it. Here's a list of all the forums if you want to put it elsewhere!

OP’s posts: |
anxiousdriver1 Mon 20-Dec-21 19:29:01

Hi there, I’m really paranoid that I’m going to receive a NIP/visit from the police. I’m a new driver & a very anxious person but I’m normally a careful driver. However when driving the other day I made a coupe of stupid mistakes:

1) I didn’t spot a pedestrian waiting at a Zebra and drove over it without stopping. I waved to apologise but I’m worried she might report me.

2) I overtook a couple of cyclists on an A road but I don’t think I gave them enough room. I should have hung back and waited because there were cars coming in the other direction but I made the snap decision to overtake before the cars got too close. I’m worried the cyclists might report me for not giving them enough room.

I know these are really stupid mistakes and I have learnt from them. I just wondered whether I’m being overly paranoid or if you think there’s a high chance I might be reported?

Thank you

Axien2000 Mon 27-Dec-21 00:19:51

I work in a sheltered housing scheme, the tenants are generally over 55. Most of the time people move in when their house has become unmanageable or if their spouse has passed away. 2 years ago a lovely lady moved in, let’s call her Anne. She told me at the time she had 3 sons and 1 daughter. Her husband had passed away a few years previous due to alcohol related issues. I later learned that she was treated badly by him, he was physically and mentally abusive. She told me one of her sons was in hospital and he was in a bad way. She didn’t offer up what was wrong with him and I didn’t like to ask.

About a month after moving in her son passed away, alcohol issues. Having spoken with a friend of hers I learned that one of her other sons had died 2 years previous due to a drug overdose (heroin).

So at this stage she has lost 2 out of her 3 sons within a short space of time. Her 3rd and last son also struggles with alcoholism, he gradually got worse with the lose of his brothers until the inevitable, he passes away.

Unbelievably this woman has now lost 3 sons within 4 years. How and where do you even start to console someone who has lost so so much?

Having spoke with her last week she told me her daughter has tested positive to Covid. Now in her mind she’s thinking she is going to lose her too. She is also going over things in her mind, and she is now blaming herself for her sons death. Back then she had joined AlAnon and they gave her the confidence to move out of the house she shared with her sons and find somewhere safe and secure for herself . She thinks now if she hadn’t moved out they would still be here.

Thankfully her daughter doesn’t drink or take drugs. Unfortunately they don’t have the closest of mother daughter relationships and she doesn’t get much comfort/ support from her.

The reason for my post is I want to anonymously send her some flowers and let her know how amazing she is and a wonderful mother, I just don’t know how to put it. Any suggestions would be gratefully appreciated.


Theunamedcat Mon 27-Dec-21 00:25:55

I rang them as I had an abusive partner who cheated on me and I caught him cross dressing I was told I was spiteful for not sharing my clothing I tried someone else she told me be grateful you don't have children tried again got a grandmother type on the phone who told me if you can't accept it you should exit

Not helpful but at least the last one tried

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