Samaritans branch celebrates its 30th anniversary

Samaritans and invited guests outside the branch headquarters in Charlotte Street, Lerwick.
Samaritans and invited guests outside the branch headquarters in Charlotte Street, Lerwick.

The Shetland branch of the Samaritans celebrated its 30th anniversary on Saturday with an event in the Lerwick headquarters.

The organisation was founded by Anglican vicar Chad Varah in 1953, its aim being to provide support to anyone in emotional distress or at risk of suicide.

Mr Varah’s inspiration came from an experience he had as a young curate when taking the funeral of a 14-year-old girl. She had killed herself because she feared she had contracted a sexually transmitted infection, when in reality she was menstruating.

There are now over 200 branches across the UK and Ireland, run by over 21,200 trained volunteers, with the Samaritans being entirely dependent on voluntary support.

The highlight of the Lerwick event was an inspiring speech by former local volunteer Roy Paterson, including both serious and amusing elements.

Mr Paterson told how he got involved through two separate but similar experiences. First, a former Navy pal took his own life through carbon monoxide poisoning in his car and to this day no-one could understand why.

Then a few years later a favourite uncle did the same thing. He had been “just on the cusp of retirement when he went out with his dog one night and never came back”. He had thrown himself over a cliff.

“I tried to fathom out how this could have happened,” Mr Paterson said. “But there were were no answers. When I was in a position to do something, if I could just turn one person away from suicide, I wanted to do that.

“There’s no magic formula. It’s just listening to people and trying to solve their problems. Listening does work … and a sense of humour definitely helps.”

New branch chairwoman Edith Leask appealed for more volunteers to come forward to help the potentially life-saving service.

“There are people out there who feel they need to talk about their problems,” she said. “If they can can talk about it, it becomes manageable. We are not very showy or anything but we are really sincere.

“You may not know the people you speak to but you often get a sense that you are making a difference.”

Mrs Leask thanked all her fellow volunteers and all the people who had supported the branch, including Shetland Charitable Trust, without whose funding they would really struggle.

She also mentioned architect Alan McKay, designer of the new Charlotte Street building which replaced four previous bases in the town.

The Linda Rose House building was made possible by a substantial legacy left by Lerwick woman Linda Robertson to the Samaritans in the hope that some day, they would be able to own their own premises. She was chairwoman of the branch when she died of cancer in 1994.

If anyone would like to volunteer they can call (01595) 694449, or alterntatively go to the Samaritans website at

SIC convener Malcolm Bell was invited to cut the anniversary cake. “It’s a real honour to be asked to do this,” he said.

Mr Bell explained that he had been double booked on Saturday, also being invited to the Royal Navy display at Fort Charlotte.

“I decided that I might need the Samaritans before I need the Royal Navy,” he joked, “so I decided to come here.”


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