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Last Updated: Sunday, 2 November, 2003, 00:42 GMT
Samaritans celebrates 50 years
Samaritan volunteers
Samaritans are organising a series of events to mark the anniversary
Samaritans, Britain's oldest telephone helpline, starts celebrating its golden jubilee on Sunday.

The charity, which was set up in 1953, will host a series of events throughout the year to mark the occasion.

These include gala dinners, film festivals and local birthday parties both as a way of celebrating and raising funds.

"We hope that people will celebrate with us," said Simon Armson, Samaritans' chief executive.

Confidential service

The Samaritans, as it was then called, was set up in a London church on 2 November 1953 by a young vicar called Chad Varah.

Through his work, he saw the need for a confidential emergency service for people "in distress who need spiritual aid".

We are all very ordinary people
Ben, Samaritan volunteer
One of the experiences which prompted him to start the helpline was the death of a 14-year-old girl.

She committed suicide when she starting having periods. She had no-one to discuss her fears that she had a sexually transmitted disease.

The helpline received plenty of publicity when it started. In fact, it owes its name to a Daily Mirror article in 1953 which referred to it as a "good Samaritan telephone service".

Within weeks of setting it up, Mr Varah had to draft in volunteers to help him cope with the huge number of calls.

Fifty years later volunteers remain the backbone of the organisation.

"Without public support and people volunteering we would be unable to continue," Mr Armson told BBC News Online.

From such small beginnings Samaritans has grown substantially.

Today it has more than 200 branches throughout Britain and Ireland, offering services in 49 different languages.

Last year, it was contacted 4.6 million times by people looking for someone to talk to.

It received another 72,000 emails from people, many of whom were in distress.

A large number of calls are silent calls, where people feel unable to speak.

In total last year one in five callers expressed suicidal feelings.

'Privilege to help'

Ben, a Samaritans volunteer, called the helpline more than 20 years ago.

He has been taking calls for the past part of two decades now and would encourage others to consider giving their time too.

He told BBC News Online: "To be in a position where people are turning to you for help, often at the most difficult time of their life, is a privilege.

"Every call ends and you never know the result. But sometimes you know you have made a difference.

"Some people are reluctant to become volunteers because they don't think they are a good enough person. But really we are all very ordinary people and we are all very carefully trained.

Samaritans can be contacted on telephone 084567 90 90 90 or by emailing jo@samaritans.org

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