Charity marks 50 years serving city

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A volunteer who took the first call to Leeds Samaritans five decades ago will help to mark its 50th anniversary today.

Jean was newly trained when she picked up the phone at 11am on November 7, 1966, to the then Lord Mayor of Leeds, Alderman Joshua Walsh, who inaugurated the service by making a call to the newly opened Samaritans branch in Kelso Road. Also in the room with the Lord Mayor was his assistant Richard Strudwick.

Today at 11am, the Lord Mayor of Leeds Councillor Gerry Harper, who represents the ward where Leeds Samaritans is now sited, will unveil a plaque in the branch to celebrate the 50th milestone. Coun Harper will be joined by Jean, who is now in her 80s, and Mr Strudwick. Throughout the history of the organisation volunteers have only used their first names.

Leeds Samaritans volunteer and regional marketing officer for Yorkshire and Humberside, Bob Howe, said: “Our Samaritan branch may not have moved physically very far in 50 years; we now operate from 93 Clarendon Road, just round the corner from our original flat in Kelso Road, but the service has advanced with time and technology.

“Each year the branch receives over 50,000 contacts from callers in Leeds, the surrounding areas, and, thanks to improved communication links, also callers from all over the United Kingdom. As more people every year choose to contact us via email and SMS we are now also able to respond to this chosen method of contact.”

Since the branch opened it has taken more than 1.4 million calls from people and its volunteers work day and night 365 days a year.

Samaritans’ national number 116 123 is now free to call and will not show on phone bills. Samaritans can also be reached via 0113 2456789 (local call charges apply), jo@samaritans.org or by visiting www.samaritans.org to find a branch.