Volunteering Saves Lives

Are you up for a challenge? Think about volunteering in a role that could mean saving someone’s life. Laura McFarlane-Shopes explores the role of Helpline volunteers.

miming talking on the phone

This week at the Volunteer Centre I’ve been looking at the incredible role volunteers carrying out on helplines. Helpline volunteering is one of the most supported volunteer roles available - with massive challenges and rewards too. I spoke to one former volunteer and a volunteer coordinator to find out what it’s like volunteering on a helpline. 

Volunteer view

It was probably the most supportive volunteer role I’ve ever been involved in. You were encouraged to share and nobody judged you if you found things difficult.”

Natasha, former Samaritans Volunteer

Samaritans is probably the most well known national helpline, and it turns out that  Natasha Mort, VAL Supporting Organisations Manager, spent three years as a Samaritan. I talked to her about her experience, and it is clear that the experience has had a lasting effect in a number of ways.    

Firstly, all helplines spend a great deal of time preparing volunteers for their important role. Natasha  told me: the training was amazing, and I still use it today, even though I don’t volunteer there any more. 

Many people who are searching for volunteering consider volunteering on a helpline, but are worried about the level of responsibility. I asked Natasha what she would tell someone thinking about volunteering on a helpline, and she said:

“It was difficult but I never left a shift wishing I hadn’t done it. Strange as it may sound, I do remember the role as having a lot of laughter in it.  

“If you want a role that’s both challenging and rewarding in equal measure, that makes you in some ways be able to deal better yourself with issues in your life, and where you learn skills that can carry with you – helplines are it!”    

Every six seconds, somebody contacts us. Ten times a minute, we can help someone turn their life around. That’s a privilege, and a huge responsibility."

Stephen Hoddell, Chair of Samaritans

Volunteer Coordinators view

To get the other side of the volunteering experience, I spoke to Sarah, who is the helpline coordinator for Connect, a helpline run by Leeds Survivor Led Crisis Service.  

Sometimes people thinking about volunteering are worried that they don’t know enough to volunteer on a helpline and about how they would cope with a difficult call. I asked Sarah how they prepare and support Connect volunteers at Dial House: 

“We provide intensive training which equips people with everything they need to volunteer. Once they are actually volunteering there is always a supervisor there in the room to give support. There are only three volunteers and a supervisor there, so it’s not like a big call centre!  

“We give close and personal supervision, and it's the main part of the supervisor’s role to help volunteers both during and after a call. The supervisor can talk things through after a difficult call, and if a volunteer is still thinking about a call the next day then they can talk to the supervisor again. There are also group supervision sessions every six weeks.”  

Sarah also explained why they love their volunteers:  

“Volunteers bring diversity to the helpline. You get people walking off a building site, or office workers who want to do something meaningful in their spare time – really people from all walks of life. There’s also something about volunteers that brings a certain freshness. They are all there because they want to be there, so there is no jadedness. Energising! – that’s it they are energising.” 


If you’ve been as inspired as I have, and would like to start volunteering on a helpline, you can either find out more by looking online at www.do-it.org.uk or by dropping into Volunteer Centre Leeds in Leeds city centre.  

To contact the two organisations featured give them a call: 
Leeds Samaritans: 0113 244 5370
Leeds Survivor Led Crisis Service: 0113 260 9328  

Comments (1)

  1. kathy faulks:
    Feb 24, 2014 at 01:00 PM

    And how fantastic that we now have the SARSVL helpline in Leeds.

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