While the pandemic is the dominating story of the last year, there is another positive story to celebrate – one of people power, of communities coming together and volunteers going above and beyond. In fact, research by Ipsos Mori for Volunteer Scotland found that in June 2020 almost three quarters (74 per cent) of adults in Scotland gave time to volunteer during Covid-19, a 26 per cent increase compared to the rate reported in the Scottish Household Survey 2018.
Samaritans volunteers are proud to be a part of this story. Every day, our volunteers across the UK and Ireland respond to around 10,000 calls for help. Over the course of the pandemic around one in five contacts to our helpline have been about coronavirus, but our volunteers tell us that the pandemic has affected all callers in some way, with struggles with mental health, feelings of loneliness and isolation and worries about money, jobs and unemployment among some of the most common concerns.
As chair of Samaritans Scotland’s board, I have been inspired by the experiences across our 19 Scottish branches. It’s been heartening to hear how volunteers have innovated and adapted, continuing to support callers and each other, despite the restrictions we have had to face. Our training has moved online and branches are supporting each other in new ways. Online meetings have removed geographic barriers, making it easier for our branches from Stornoway to Selkirk, Ayrshire to Aberdeen and everywhere in between, to share their knowledge and support one another through challenging times.
As we look to the challenges and opportunities ahead, we’re committed to playing our part to ensure mental health and wellbeing is at the heart of Scotland’s transition and recovery. We believe Scotland’s third and voluntary sector has a vital role to play in realising this ambition.
Our volunteers are already playing a crucial role in strengthening suicide prevention and supporting mental wellbeing nationally and locally, through our 24-hour helpline, our Prison Listener scheme, our partnership with Network Rail and a wide range of local outreach activity. Their insights, along with the insights from the wider voluntary sector,
will be key to ensuring that a future, long-term suicide prevention strategy for Scotland translates national ambition into real change for people and communities.
Giving time and space and really listening is at the heart of what Samaritans does, and we know it can be a powerful tool. Our volunteers also tell us how much volunteering gives to them and how much they benefit from the sense of purpose and community that comes from their role. As a volunteer-led organisation, we see first-hand how volunteering can strengthen connection and resilience - something that has become even more crucial during the pandemic.
By making volunteering a key component of Scotland’s recovery and working to reduce and remove the barriers so more people and communities can feel the full benefits of volunteering, we can help to overcome isolation and ensure a positive and long-lasting legacy from the pandemic.
At Samaritans, we often say our volunteers are ordinary people doing extraordinary things - what could sum up the people-power we’ve seen over the last year and continue to see better than that?
So to all our ordinary-extraordinary volunteers - for those who have volunteered for many years and those are just getting started, thank you. Thank you for your dedication, your compassion and, most of all, for being there to listen.
Natalie Stevenson , Chair of Samaritans Scotland