Are you in distress or despair? Samaritans are always there

Newly appointed Luton, South Beds and Harpenden Samaritans director Ian Franks with team leader Jenny Bull (left) and Marilyn Gearing
Newly appointed Luton, South Beds and Harpenden Samaritans director Ian Franks with team leader Jenny Bull (left) and Marilyn Gearing

Actress Imogen Stubbs is responsible for making a good Samaritan out of former bank manager Ian Franks – although the Oxford-educated playwright and thespian is no doubt blissfully unaware of this unexpected string to her bow.

Ian – newly appointed director of the charity’s Luton, South Beds and Harpenden branch, explained: “Imogen spent 24 hours working with the Samaritans, then wrote about her experience in the Telegraph. I read it and was instantly hooked.

“I rang them immediately and enrolled on the training course.”

That was 16 years ago and he’s been a passionate advocate ever since.

Right now he’s keen to recruit more volunteers for the service started by Anglican vicar Chad Varah – founder of the first crisis hotline – in 1953.

In addition to having enough people to answer phones and reply to emails and texts, Ian’s keen to expand their outreach facility.

He said: “We already work in partnership with Network Rail – we train staff to spot where there could be a potential problem and support staff and passengers after there’s been an incident.

“And my ambition is to have a Samaritan contact at Luton&Dunstable Hospital.”

There are two Q&A events coming up at 7.30pm on both June 24 and August 4 when anyone interested can come along to the Cardiff Road office and have a chat about what’s involved.

This will be followed by an information and selection day at 10.30am on September 6.

Ian admitted being a Samaritan was “a huge ask” of anyone, requiring self discipline – and a sense of humour.

“It’s also a great privilege,” chipped in former director Marilyn Gearing, who joined in 1976. “We’re completely unshockable,” she added. “You learn that in the training.

“We’re looking for ordinary people who are caring and committed, who’ll be able to empathise.”

Ian said: “Volunteers are given a pretty thorough grounding, the training is very professional.

“And it continues ever year. There is support right the way through, from the bottom to the top.

“We care for our volunteers as much as we do for our callers. There are always at least two people on a shift and no-one goes home without offloading to a team leader.”

The majority of calls are about relationships and mental health issues.

Ian said: “We don’t give advice but it helps people to talk through their problems with someone who doesn’t judge, who just listens.

“We walk with them through their time of crisis, distress and despair. And that’s what’s important.”