FOUR months ago Paul Barker*, not his real name, was like any other university student.
At 20-year-old, his main concern was balancing his studies alongside his love for partying and staying out until the sun rose.
However the Teesside University student is now one of tens of thousands of volunteers in the UK who have an extraordinary secret.
Paul has spent the past couple of months changing peoples’ lives by voluntarily working as a Samaritan at the local Middlesbrough branch and he wants to encourage fellow students to join the volunteer programme.
He said: “I am the voice at the end of the phone that is there for someone to talk to. Whatever the issue, I am the person that listens to the problems or fears and that feels good because I know that I am helping someone.”
The Samaritans charity has over 20,000 volunteers working in branches across the UK but there is a need for more volunteers to help.
According to The Samaritans Suicide Statistics Report 2013, around 21% of people (over 600,000) who contacted the Samaritans in 2011 were expressing suicidal feelings.
The Samaritans are available 365 days of the year, 24 hours a day and the service is completely confidential.
Paul has always wanted to give something back to the community and help others and the Samaritans offered him the opportunity to fulfil this dream.
He unexpectedly found the Samaritans after he applied for other charity work which he found wasn’t suitable for him.
He said: “I was looking to go to Africa to volunteer to build a church but that would cost me £7,500, which I don’t have.
“So then I found Samaritans and I’ve never regretted the decision to volunteer with them.
“Every time I answer the phone, I am helping someone.
“Although, I don’t feel like I’m making a huge difference, I know I am doing something to help others which feels good.”
In the 2012 annual report from The National Office for Suicide Prevention it states from November 2011 to October 2012, 412,167 calls were answered by the Samaritans Helpline.
Although becoming a Samaritan was an easy choice for Paul, there was a course of intense training in order to prepare him for the tasks he would face as a volunteer.
Paul said: “I enjoyed training. I got to meet a lot of people who were all brought together for a common cause, which was really nice.
“It’s interesting to meet fellow volunteers to hear their story, to hear what other charities they have worked for and why they want to become volunteers.
“Although for some people volunteering is a good thing to do but for others it’s quite clearly not for them or they might not be ready for it.”
Samaritans give their time to listen to the callers problems. No matter how little or irrelevant the problem may seem, the volunteers are there to help and talk through a wide range of issues and help to find a way forward.
Paul said: “We can have a range of calls at any time of the day or night.
“Anything from prank calls, to calls where people simply hang up when we answer or you can have calls which are right on the other end of the scale, where people are on the end of the line and are ready to end their life.
“But we are here to talk to them for as little or as long as they want – from a couple of minutes to a couple of hours.”
Being a volunteer with the Samaritans involves giving a few hours of time each week and this helps to keep the valuable service open.
However as Paul explains, working with the Samaritan’s is not for everyone.
He said: “The calls that are more difficult can affect you, especially when you don’t expect it – but that is part of the job.
“Personally I think that I am fairly emotionally strong and I think that is a good trait for a Samaritan to have.”
There is a continuing need for volunteers to work with the Samaritans to help change and save lives by simply just talking to someone.
If you wish to help the Samaritans and become a volunteer, head to the Samaritans website and fill in the application form.
If you need to speak to someone from the Samaritans team, you can call 08457 90 90 90 or email email@example.com
Paul said: “It’s different to what I expected. It’s different every time I go in. Every call is different.”
*Due to the confidential nature of Paul’s work, we have protected his identity in this piece.