THE CHAIRWOMAN of the Shetland branch of the Samaritans has renewed her call for more volunteers to join their ranks as the northern outpost celebrates its 30th anniversary.
The local branch is based at Lerwick’s Charlotte Street and the service, which offers confidential support to anyone suffering personal troubles, has been active in the isles since 1985.
However, the organisation is always looking for more volunteers to help man their telephone lines and undertake face-to-face meetings.
The Lerwick building is open during the week for a few hours each night, but chairwoman Edith Leask said that increasing their staff numbers would help to expand its service.
“If we had more volunteers, we could either do more or increase the hours,” she told Shetland News.
“We’re trying to establish outreach into the community, trying to make the community more aware of us as well. We also have to do fundraising because although we’re part of a national organisation, we have to fundraise for our own branch.”
The Samaritans was launched in London by vicar Chad Varah in 1953 and it now has over 200 branches in the UK.
It offers those in a vulnerable state an outlet to talk through their problems. “It’s a very, very important service,” Leask said.
“There are still many people who do not talk about their anxiety, their worries, their depression. As long as you keep these things bottled up, you’re not going to be able to cope with it and things get worse for you.
“So we’re part of a national helpline number that gives continuous help to people who are going through difficult times and feel they are not coping.”
Leask has been with the Lerwick branch since it opened and she oversaw the opening of their Linda Rose House building, which was helped by a legacy donation from the late Linda Robertson, a former chairwoman of the Shetland outpost who passed away in the mid 1990s.
She added that the branch’s service has over time evolved to allow the public greater access to support and help – even if it’s just a cup of tea and a chat.
“We’re always adapting and changing. When we opened first we did phone calls and accepted face to face contact in the branch. A cup of tea and all that.
“But in recent times we do email as well, because we’re very aware that most things are done using mobile phones or the internet.
“And we will be going onto develop with SMS before too long as well. It’s about making our service more accessible to the public.”
Figures suggest that Shetland has a relatively high suicide rate within Scotland – but Leask believes the issue of bottling up emotions is a problem common to the whole of the UK.
“To discuss anxiety is not easy – the last person you’d want to talk about it to is someone close to you, because you’d feel like you’d be losing faith, or you’d not want people to think that you’re not managing.”
Leask and her team meanwhile were honoured with a Scottish Parliament motion lodged on Wednesday.
Highlands and Islands list MSP Mike MacKenzie “commended the life-saving work” of Leask and added that he hopes the “vital service continues to offer support for all those in need”.