Samaritans in Bognor Regis are starting to save lives by text.
The charity’s branch in Argyle Road – which serves the Observer area – has launched a new service to ensure those most at risk of suicide will get in touch more readily.
The Olympian Outreach, as it has been dubbed by the branch’s deputy director for outreach, Trevor Marshall, received a kickstart with £7,245 from West Sussex County Council.
Mr Marshall said: “Without this funding, we would not be able to run this service.
“Texts tend to come from younger people because the calls come in every lunchtime and teatime.
“That’s our feeling about the age of the callers and that’s backed up by national research, though we obviously don’t keep detailed information about those that contact us.
“The number of texts we are receiving among our 24,000-26,000 contacts a year is growing because of this new service.
“We find 50 per cent of those who send SMS messages (texts) have suicidal thoughts. For emails, it tends to be around 40 per cent and for phone calls about 25 per cent.
“When we reply to texts, we concentrate on the sender’s emotions and their conditions.
“We get them to think about themselves and why they want to die. Is it because they want their problems to go away?”
The Olympian Outreach service has a target of putting in place the technical means to receive and respond to text messages and to provide training to the branch’s volunteers in texting.
The branch also intends to deliver talks to 600 young people at schools to get across the Samaritans’ work.
Another aim is to recruit and train eight volunteers for the outreach service as well as 20 new volunteers for the branch’s general work.
The initiative will see the branch spend at least 80 hours with the vulnerable adults who are being helped by the Stonepillow charity.
Homeless people are ten times more likely to take their lives than anyone else.
Mr Marshall said the branch had already started the service with Stonepillow. In its first weeks, six people were being seen in the two-hour visits and three people had talked about their suicidal thoughts.
The county councillor for Bognor Regis East, Francis Oppler, helped the branch with its bid to receive funding from the council’s Big Society programme. He said: “I was particularly pleased to be able to help the Samaritans.
“The volunteers do excellent work with some of the most vulnerable people in our society and for no benefit to themselves.
“I’m delighted the county council has seen fit to award a grant of this size.”
Olympian Outreach has also benefited from a £1,000 from Arun District Council. Its Wellbeing team has supported the Samaritans’ service.