Belfast Telegraph

Good Samaritans who'll be on call this Christmas Day

By AMANDA FERGUSON

When people across Northern Ireland are tucking into a selection box or watching a festive movie on Christmas Day, Robert Bell will be doing what he has done every December 25 for the last decade – answering calls to the Samaritans' helpline.

This will be the 11th year the data analyst from Belfast has spent volunteering on Christmas Day.

The father of two is just one of 50 volunteers from the 220-strong branch in Belfast on duty answering calls round-the-clock from people struggling to cope this Christmas.

Robert (47) said: "When I started volunteering in 2002 I wanted to give something back. My own life was going well, my girls were at school and I wanted to make the best use of my spare time.

"I have wonderful family and friends, but I've always been aware of the pressures on people who might not be able to share problems with others. This made me realise that maybe I could be there for them at times like these.

"This time of year can increase feelings of loneliness, people may be in strained family situations, may have overspent, they might have all the usual issues plus many more."

For most of the shift, Robert is busy answering calls, emails and texts. He is also the day leader on Christmas Day, which involves giving support to the volunteers on duty as well as listening to callers.

"Being a support to volunteers on duty is important, especially if they have dealt with a stressful call or situation," he added.

"I will be responsible for looking after the branch for the 24-hour period going into Boxing Day.

"It is a privilege to be there for people. Those precious few hours of being there for others is almost my way of trying to make their day a little less unhappy.

"After my shift, I go back to my family; we have a meal before I go back in for an overnight shift at the branch".

Paul Wilson, voluntary marketing officer for Samaritans Northern Ireland, praised the efforts of all volunteers.

"This time of year can be an incredibly difficult time and we want to let people know that Samaritans is here if things are getting to them," he said. "When many other services shut down for the holidays, our volunteers continue to be available, answering calls round-the-clock.

"Thank you to every single person who is spending Christmas volunteering – you are inspirational."

BACKGROUND

The Samaritans national helpline is preparing to answer 15,000 calls a day from people in the UK and Republic over the festive period. The Belfast branch answered 38,000 calls for help last year, part of the 163,000 calls taken each year across all eight branches in Northern Ireland. For details call 08457 90 90 90, email

jo@samaritans.org, or visit www.samaritans.org.

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