This is the first in a series of short interviews with volunteers to gain their perspectives on volunteering in the time of COVID-19. We thank all of those who took the time to chat with us about their experience with volunteering in 2020.
Feargus Callagy, a Samaritan based in Sligo, shares his views on volunteering in the “new normal”. He began his role as a Samaritan in 2014 and typically volunteers 3-4 hours each week.
What has been the biggest change in your role since lockdown?
“Before COVID-19, volunteers had more of an opportunity to overlap schedules with other Samaritans. Previously, we would meet one another for about 15 minutes to brief our successor on duty with any relevant happenings in the office and with any specific hand-over duties. At any given time there used to be about 3 volunteers in the office. Now, there is just one at a time. So, now there is a lot less chat between volunteers.
What have been the biggest changes within the Samaritans since COVID-19 emerged?
Within the organisation, our over-70 volunteers were cocooning and as a result, the number of Samaritan volunteers went down considerably. At the same time, the number of callers went up a lot. We used to see some service users in the office in person but that has stopped now.
Our office hours have changed slightly and between volunteers, every surface must be disinfected. There is a lot of cleaning going on- telephones, keyboards, computers and every surface!
We used to be able to enjoy a tea break with others. Now, we must use the kitchen individually. It is tea-for-one these days.
Are there any new tasks you have been asked to help with?
Aside from all of the cleaning, there has been a lot of new callers and greater uptake of our service. Many people are feeling isolated these days and have been in contact.
Do you have any words of advice for anyone considering to volunteer with Samaritans?
I’d ask please do join us. It’s a wonderful, privileged position to be in and leaves me consistently humbled by the strength of the human spirit.
Organisation overview: Samaritans (https://www.samaritans.org/ireland/samaritans-ireland/) is a registered charity whose vision is that fewer people die by suicide. Every six seconds, somebody contacts Samaritans for help, and every 90 minutes, someone in the UK or Ireland dies by suicide. Established in Ireland in 1962, there are now 20 Samaritans branches across Ireland with more than 2,000 active volunteers.
In 2019, the total call figure in Sligo was 31,831 calls. Find the Samaritans’ 2019 Impact Report here.