Understaffed Samaritans stretched to keep up with coronavirus calls

Jan, working in the Weston branch's operations room.

Jan, working in the Weston branch's operations room. - Credit: Weston Samaritans

The number of volunteers was slashed in half at the beginning of lockdown, a director confirmed.

Samaritans Weston branch on the High Street.

Samaritans Weston branch on the High Street. - Credit: Weston Samaritans

Covid-19 has played a ‘significant role’ in the majority of calls received by Weston’s Samaritans, a director has confirmed.

The charity aims to prevent vulnerable people from becoming isolated, an issue only worsened by the coronavirus pandemic.

Paul Slade, left, after completing a 25 mile charity walk.

Paul Slade, left, after completing a 25 mile charity walk. - Credit: Paul Slade

Director of the Weston branch, Paul Slade, explained how it has had to cope with the same level of demand – despite lower volunteer numbers since lockdown began.

Paul said: “At the beginning of April, we were down to 27 volunteers, having had 52 before. It was all available hands to the pumps and we filled our rota, which theoretically needs 36 active volunteers every week because lots of us came in to do extra shifts.

“We temporarily moved the operations room, where the phones are answered, to a more spacious area of the building to enable people to stay 2m away from each other.

“The moment the phones are activated, they ring. Waiting times have been maintained at a similar level to before the lockdown but the service is often overstretched at the best of times.”

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Recent alterations to the Government’s social distancing guidelines have made it possible for more staff to answer calls from those in need.

Paul added: “Since the lockdown has been eased, volunteers have been able to come back and we have 34 volunteers active at present. I don’t think callers will have seen any difference in the quality or reliability of the service.”

Although the Samaritans branch admits it is hard to gauge whether the coronavirus pandemic has fuelled demand, Covid-19 is a common fear for those who do get in touch.

Paul said: “What is certain is that Covid plays a significant role in the majority of calls – people fear the virus.

“Our social contacts, our family networks, our access to services, even our access to the outside world have been drastically affected by the lockdown and this takes its toll on people’s mental and emotional health.”

To support the Weston branch, donations can be made at www.samarathon2020.everydayhero.com/uk/samaritans-of-weston-super-mare-n-somerset