The Samaritans are well known for their help with people who have reached a desperate situation. Just last year in the UK and Ireland they took 5.4 million calls or contacts. But they also want to see if they can help people at an earlier stage of mental illness to try to prevent them reaching the stage of desperation. The initiative Wellbeing in the City was thus breaking new ground for them. I blogged on this two years ago just before its launch.[i]
It is a programme using online and paper materials to assist both employers and employees to help identify workplace colleagues in distress. I have been through the programme and have learnt is that if you try to help a colleague by asking if there’s anything they might like to share with you, even if they decline you can’t make it worse. So don’t hold back.
In April 2018, the programme was launched by the Samaritans’ leadership team in St Stephen’s, Walbrook, the church where Chad Varah founded the Samaritans, and I was there in support. I then published details to the members of my Past Masters’ Association and invited them to bring it to the attention of business contacts in the City of London. Initially it was aimed at the City for a number of reasons, but it has since been expanded. The programme has been rebranded Wellbeing in the Workplace and focus has been widened. There is special focus now on the Retail sector because of the turbulence there with mass closures of stores up and down the country. There is a plan to focus on the construction sector because it has a high incidence of accidents and of insecure employment.
I have not tried to measure our own level of achievement as we always recommend our contacts to get in touch with the Samaritans directly. We do not want to become a bureaucratic hurdle and so cannot say for sure how much we have achieved directly. But the Samaritans are delighted with the help we have offered and we are in frequent contact with them about progress.
The programme is now up to 14,000 registered users across all partner firms. Just two firms, AoN and Shroders have led the way with 4,000 users between the two businesses. Wellbeing in Retail also continues to gather pace, with 15,000 registered users across the retail partners.
The Samaritans are in the process of launching another initiative focused on the City of London. Over 500,000 people work in the City of London but only a few thousand live there. This presents an enormous challenge to the Samaritans. By their own rules the volunteers must work from physical premises, not remotely from their own homes. There must always be a second person present in case the first needs help. And they must offer a 24/7 service.
The proposed solution is the City Hub, a physical location which will be manned and operated by volunteers recruited as much as possible from City based firms. This, of course, comes at a cost. The first year cost is budgeted at £216,000. There are start-up costs in this so future years will be a bit less. The Samaritans asked for our help.
We decided that while we had said we would not ask our members to put their hands in their own pockets there was no reason why we could not ask the Livery Companies themselves, or rather their charity committees. And so we did. It is not appropriate here to mention names but several Livery Companies have responded very positively and some are still looking into it. We have pointed out that this is a City based initiative which we should support if we can. There is the historical connection. But as well as money there is the opportunity for our members to introduce an interesting way to give back to the community. So far the Samaritans have received 256 enquiries from potential volunteers. They regard this as extraordinary.
Of the £216,000 over a third has been raised by the Phoenix Masters’ initiative. This is what the Samaritans management said in a letter we received: “The Year 1 cost for City Hub is now fully funded. To be frank, we would not have been able to do this without you.”
We have been invited to be represented on the supervisory committee for the City Hub. Two of my colleagues and I will be joining this just as soon as we can physically meet. I think in the current crisis the Samaritans will be busier than ever. So if you are minded so to do please visit https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/David-Pearson70
Your donations will be most welcome but will be anonymous.