THE Samaritans’ Limerick and Tipperary branch has handled close to 1.4 million calls and local volunteers have spent a staggering 250,000 hours listening to those seeking its help over the past four decades, regional director Mairead Sweeney has said.
She was speaking after the local branch celebrated its 40th birthday by hosting the Samaritans national conference at the Castletroy Park Hotel over the weekend, bringing to Limerick over 230 delegates from 21 branches north and south.
“It is very rarely that we all get together as groups of volunteers. We are all independent charities working in our own branches but striving to achieve the same thing – for example working on the same phone network - but the focus is just to take time out and share ideas and projects that are going on in other branches and in other communities,” Ms Sweeney explained.
“We are totally voluntary so we don’t get a lot of opportunity to do that. Once a year is as good as it gets in terms of meeting up in what is a part-business, part-social setting.”
At the business end of things, the theme of this year’s conference was The Power of Listening. The two keynote speakers were Dr Terry Lynch, the Limerick GP and psychotherapist and the former Wexford hurler Diarmuid Lyng.
Other guests included Deputy Mayor of Limerick Joe Crowley, Deputy Dan Neville and Jenni McCartney, chairperson of the Samaritans in the UK.
A number of local organisations - including the Carers Association, Milford Care Centre, and Sr Helen Culhane’s Children’s Grief Project - also participated in workshops as part of the conference.
Ms Sweeney said the workload of the Samritans in Limerick and Tipperary - and around the country was ever-increasing.
There were currently 130 volunteers the Samaritans could rely on in the region and “it takes a minimum of 95 people giving at a minimum three hours a week to deliver an uninterrupted listening support service” whether that is over the phone, by text or email of face-to-face at the Samaritans base in Barrington Street which is open from 9am to 10pm for anybody who wants to talk.
Ms Sweeney said that this weekend was the first anniversary of the Samaritans free-call number 116 123.
“We would have seen our listening hours increase by 38% since the introduction of that number, the calls themselves having increased by about 52%,” Ms Sweeney said, explaining that people calling the free number would get through to the first available line across the 12 branches in the republic.
And the Samaritans Limerick helpline number - 061 412 111 - also continues to operate for those in need.