Preston Samaritans appeal after fall in income due to Covid-19

Sally Eastham, Director of Preston Samaritans (photo: Neil Cross)

The Preston branch of listening charity the Samaritans is appealing for donations after all its fundraising activities were cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

With its usual income generators, including pop-up information and awareness raising stands at Preston bus and railway stations discontinued and their city shop closed for many weeks the city Samaritans now face a significant shortfall in income. This loss of funding comes at a time when their service is particularly needed.

Preston Director Sally Eastham said: “We’re not able to fundraise. Normally we would do events, for example last year we did a 24 hour (bike) spinning at Asda, Fulwood. We have not been able to do that since March. We are desperately short of money really. It does cost quite a bit to run a branch. It can cost maybe £700 to £800 a week. We just haven’t raised funds from any source this year.”

Sally Eastham and volunteer Bert outside the Preston branch of Samaritans
(photo: Neil Cross)

The Preston Samaritans shop in Plungington has now reopened, but with reduced numbers allowed in the shop at any one time. Locally Sally reports that support comes in different ways, sometimes through a will, sometimes with a donation sent directly to the branch at 11, St Wilfrid Street, Preston.

Sally said the branch also has a shortfall of volunteers due to the impact of the pandemic. However she stressed callers can still get through. She said: “The only thing that has changed as a branch (is) we’ve closed the door to our face to face callers. We did that at the start of lockdown. That was to protect ourselves because if one person was tested positive we would have to close.

“Although we are closed for face-to-face interviews we are available 24/7 on our help line number and also (via) our email address. Some people prefer to put their thoughts and feelings in writing. You can look at it, revamp it, send it now or not send at all. You will get a response.”

Samaritans do not know where phone calls come from and local services can take calls and emails from people in despair all over the country. Sally said: “We’re very, very busy all the time providing emotional support. I think since lock down in March we’ve taken something like half a million calls nationally. We have 201 branches throughout the U.K. with 19 across the north west. Not all are open 24/7 but it’s a 24 hour service. There’s a central platform and calls are distributed as and when.

“We don’t see their numbers. That’s the point of the confidentiality. It’s good to talk. We are a listening service and it’s free to call us. It doesn’t show up on your telephone account. Even if you haven’t any credit on your phone you can still ring the Samaritans.”

In August the Preston branch’s volunteers were on the phone for 388 hours answering 1,573 calls and responding to 157 emails.

Sally and her team have heard the impact of Covid-19 on people’s sense of security and how loneliness and other problems created by Covid-19 is creating difficulties for callers.

She said: “We are going over and above what we would normally do because they are unprecedented times and the impact of Covid overspills in all sorts of ways. People are struggling with isolation, loneliness. When you are confined to your own home and some people have mental health issues it has a serious impact on you. I think since lockdown I would say a quarter of those calls are people concerned about Covid in one way or another, whether it be loneliness, isolation or mental health. Not seeing the family has a huge impact for some people.”

Similarly the financial uncertainty and fears about making ends meet as furlough ends is another pressure.

She said the issue coming across in so many calls is the overwhelming sense of isolation felt by many people who are struggling to adapt to a whole new way of life: “I think Covid is such an unknown quantity. As a country we’ve never ever come across this.”

Her advice to anyone feeling such despair is clear and costs nothing: “I would say pick up a phone. It can be a scary experience (but) from my experience – I’ve been a Samaritan for a long time – once you’ve picked the phone up you’re half way there.

“It’s sometimes easier to talk to a stranger who can’t see you, doesn’t know you, just to get the weight of the problem off your shoulders. It’s a five – 20 minute chat perhaps.

“We are a service which encourages the caller to explore options and we would talk through options and that would hopefully lead the caller to make their own choices. It’s the caller’s choice as to how they move forward.”

Recently the Samaritans issued posters which have been distributed around the city by volunteers and to venues such as health centres which remind the public it is good to talk.

* Call Samaritans free on 116 123.

* See the Preston branch’s website at www.samaritans.org/branches/preston/

* To donate to Preston Samaritans or volunteer email preston.director@samaritans.org

* See national website www.samaritans.org for advice on support during Coronavirus

* Anyone needing help who would rather email than phone the Samaritans should email jo@samaritans.org

Lancaster Guardian