Christmas campaign: £750k rebuild appeal for lifeline charity's home
- Credit: Brittany Woodman/Brown & Co
A lifeline mental health charity at the heart of Norwich has launched a £750,000 fundraising bid to rebuild its city centre home of 57 years.
Norwich Samaritans was founded in 1964 and has been supporting people in distress or at risk of suicide from its St Stephens Square home in Norwich since.
It is staffed by an army of roughly 200 volunteers, who answer calls on its helpline 24 hours a day, seven days a week, as well as responding to letters, instant messages and emails from around the country. In 2019 alone, volunteers responded to almost 40,000 requests for help.
Teams also offer support in local schools, businesses and at events, as well as running listener schemes for inmates at HMP Norwich and HMP Bure.
Now, with its centre falling into disrepair, the charity has launched a £750,000 fundraiser to - subject to planning permission, which has been lodged with Norwich City Council - rebuild and modernise its base in time for its 60th anniversary in 2024.
Director James Ellis said: "Our branch is no longer fit for purpose - it has damp problems, the roof has structural issues and its downstairs floor needs digging up and relaying.
"Discussions over what to do with the site have been ongoing for more than a decade, and we have been sticking plasters over problems in that time. We know we need to stay in the city centre as our branch is well-known and easy to find for those looking for support.
"The proposed rebuild would secure our future going forward and expand the number of people we are able to help every day. It will improve conditions for volunteers, widen our reach and enable us to spend another 60 years in the city centre.
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"Our volunteers will be working hard to raise funds to make our rebuild a reality, but we are also appealing to the generosity of people in Norwich and Norfolk to help."
The work could cost around £750,000, with more than £110,000 of that sum already raised.
Mr Ellis said it would future-proof the building and expand the capacity of the branch, enabling it to take roughly 50pc more calls.
It comes as the charity continues its post-pandemic recovery.
"The impact of coronavirus was significant for our branch,” Mr Ellis said. “We had to close our two Norwich shops, stop our outreach programme and lower the number of volunteers we could have in branch, in turn reducing the number of calls we could answer.
"To adapt, we have created a new operations room in the branch, brought our volunteer numbers back up and moved our training and recruitment processes online. It has not been without its challenges, but we have evolved and learned to cope with the new normal."
Each year, Norwich Samaritans volunteers provide more than 250,000 hours of support to the branch and its two shops. In 2019, they responded to 38,000 contacts from callers, a number which has been steadily increasing.
Confidentiality is key, with callers able to talk anonymously.
The Norwich branch sees a high number of face-to-face visitors, too - roughly 500 per year before the pandemic.
"Our volunteers support people from all backgrounds and walks of life, offering them a judgement-free, confidential place to talk. We have supported people with concerns relating to a wide range of issues - from mental health difficulties and relationship difficulties to financial instability and loneliness,” Mr Ellis said.
“During the pandemic many of our calls mentioned coronavirus, and we saw first-hand the devastating impact it had on people's wellbeing.
"We know our services are in need. While we do support those at risk of suicide, we are here for anyone in distress and we play an important role in the community."
To donate, visit kindlink.com/fundraising/Norwich-Samaritans/renovate-our-branch
And to find out more about volunteering, visit samaritans.org/branches/norwich/
History of the Samaritans
Samaritans was founded by a vicar, writer and cartoonist called Chad Varah in 1953 in London.
He had spent his career offering counselling to parishioners and wanted to do more to help those contemplating suicide.
At the time, he said, the service was just "a man willing to listen, with a base and an emergency telephone".
The vicar was initially sceptical of letting volunteers help, instead allowing them to sit with people as they waited for a counselling appointment. But he found they opened up to those with them and felt no need to attend their appointment by the time it came around.
The second centre, in Edinburgh, took its first call on June 1, 1959, and today the charity has more than 20,000 volunteers and 201 branches.
Every day, volunteers respond to around 10,000 calls for help, as well as responding to emails, letters, instant messages and visiting people in their communities.