Alex has been volunteering with the Samaritans for two years
No one knows more than Alex Dodd how important it is to listen. She has been manning the phones day and night at her regional branch of Samaritans in Blackpool for more than two years, fitting in her three-hour shifts around her day job as a trainer for an energy company. At the moment, though, like so many other workers in the UK, she has been furloughed and spending most of her time at home where she lives with her policeman fiancé, James, and their dog, Arnie.
So when it comes to being there as part of the 24/7 hour service for those in need of emotional support, she is on hand, especially when they are busy.
Says Alex, 29, “We are always busy. Even before the pandemic. The minute I put down the phone another call comes in.”
“I’ve never had a time when I can just go and leave my phone. It’s constantly ringing and during my shift I could take seven calls or 20. It varies depending what people need.”
“I could be on a call for 20 minutes or an hour and a half.”
“We do not give advice. We are there to listen and try and support people in making their own decisions.”
While stepping up to the challenge of helping those who need support during this global emergency, Samaritans, she says, continues to provide its services, including receiving and answering letters and emails.
“Some people find it easier to write it all down and towards the end of my shift I will often answer their emails,” she explains.
“The only real difference since lockdown is that some people are calling us who might not have done so before.”
“They might be lonely or finding it difficult to cope. But the feelings they have are the same.”
“I have learned that life can be an absolute roller coaster, but it is so important to talk about feelings honestly.”
“I have a friend who was very closed up and through what I have learned at Samaritans he opened up. He thanks me a lot for doing this.”
“I truly believe everyone should have access to some form of support when life gets tough.”
“There can be very long waiting lists for the NHS for any form of mental health support, which means that people need somewhere else to turn – and a lot of the time they will call Samaritans.”
‘We are always busy,’ says Alex
Alex says that in talking openly about their own experiences and raising awareness of mental health issues, the younger Royals have played an important role.
“I think it’s really helped that Princes William and Harry have spoken out.”
“Before that people probably thought, ‘Oh, the Royals, their lives are amazing. They don’t have the same worries as normal people’. Whereas everyone has the same worries but in different ways.”
“Just because they are members of the Royal family doesn’t mean they don’t have any problems.”
Alex worked for seven years for Girlguiding North West England
Before deciding to volunteer as a listener for the charity, Alex had worked for seven years for Girlguiding North West England.
Her job there was to help members discover their full potential through a range of activities and events.
“Seeing all of the leaders work so hard with the next generation of women – and all for free – inspired me to volunteer for a cause I was also passionate about and I’m a natural good listener,” she explains.
Another reason she chose to volunteer was because of a more personal experience.
“I’ve been through my own dark times in my early twenties when I went through a relationship breakdown which caused me anxiety.”
“I came out the other side so I wanted to give back to people that could have been in the same position as me and support them and let them know there is light at the end of the tunnel.”
Not that she wasn’t apprehensive about taking her first calls after finishing her training.
“After the formal training was over I was given a mentor, who is another volunteer within the branch. She was fantastic – very patient – and she gave me really good tips when listening to calls.”
“I’ve been through my own dark times,” says Alex
“For the first few shifts I would listen to my mentor’s calls. Then it was my turn to take my first call. It was quite daunting at first but my mentor was very supportive. And after a few more shifts of working together, I was left to my own devices”, recalls Alex.
When at work full-time, Alex often undertakes weekend shifts for Samaritans.
“The most rewarding part is probably at 1.30 on a Sunday morning when someone calls and they have never shared their intimate and darkest thoughts and feelings with anyone else.”
“You feel honoured that someone in the world has opened up to you, which they can because Samaritans is a confidential service.”
Samaritans is continuing its work during lockdown with volunteers social distancing while taking calls at branch offices.
The charity also offers support to its own volunteers.
“If anything has upset us or there are worries we might take home with us, we have a leader we can offload to before we sign off on our shift.”
“We also have a volunteer support team we can speak to if we are really struggling after taking calls,” explains Alex.
At home Alex spends much of her time painting in her garden studio and exercises by running.
“Having a routine is really important, especially if you’re not working at the moment.”
“Even if you are, but not able to go to the gym or see friends, it makes a huge difference to your mental health and wellbeing to exercise and get outside,” she insists.
However, Alex will get most of her exercise from the beginning of July by taking part in virtual fundraising marathon Samarathon, which was launched last year.
Alex is training for a virtual fundraising marathon
The idea is that friends and family sponsor people to run, jog or walk 26.2 miles at their own pace and over whatever time period they like during July.
Funds raised will go to Samaritans.
“Training in a pandemic outbreak is rather different to last year so I’ll adapt to the situation by fitting it into my daily exercise,” says Alex.
“Volunteering with Samaritans gives you that genuine connection to other people in the country.”
“It certainly puts perspective into my own life. With what we are all going through, listening is so important. We’re all in this together and we’ll get through it.”
To support Alex visit justgiving.com/fundraising/alex-dodd3.
- Every six seconds somebody calls Samaritans for help.
- Anyone can contact the charity free and in confidence at any time and from any phone, including a mobile without credit. Call 116 123 – the number won’t show on your bill – or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
- For people worried about coronavirus, a range of resources are available on the Samaritans website (samaritans.org).
- Training for volunteers consists of five or six hour-long face-to-face sessions and digital learning. After completing their training, new volunteers complete a number of mentored shifts during which they are given support and guidance by an experienced volunteer.
- To learn more about Samarathon, go to samaritans.org/samarathon.