Volunteers at Worthing Samaritans have spoken with Princess Alexandra about their work as a listening ear for people having a difficult time.
The royal visit yesterday was celebrating the branch’s 50th anniversary and the volunteers were delighted Princess Alexandra took time to speak to each of them individually.
More pictures: Princess Alexandra meets volunteers at Worthing Samaritans
Mike Shaw, 74, from Rustington is the branch’s longest serving volunteer, having joined in 1971.
He has seen a lot of changes in his 48 years as a Samaritan but said, fundamentally, the problems people have are the same.
Mike said: “When we started, we were a stand-alone branch and Worthing had its own dedicated phone line. We had many more visitors to the office.
“But the world of communication has changed so much. Now, it is a free call, even on a mobile. We do email, and a huge number come in, from all over the world.
“The largest volume of calls are about mental health. The core problems are the same, relationships. We don’t give advice, we are there to listen.”
Philip Betts-Allen has been a volunteer since 1987, following in the footsteps of his late wife, Wendy. When she died a couple of years ago, he thought he might give it up but the support he had from Worthing Samaritans convinced him not to.
Philip explained: “The people here are so brilliant. Everybody helped out when I lost her. I was going to leave but thanks to their support, I thought I would stay.
“We have a great support network between us. You don’t just put the telephone down and walk out.”
It was a proud day for Ann Slocombe, who started her new role as deputy director of Worthing Samaritans on Monday.
She has been a volunteer at the branch since 2012 and is now in charge of call backs, a service provided for people with specific needs.
Ann explained: “We get calls where people are deeply distressed and we can give them continuous support. We make a plan with them that might last for a week or for a specific appointment they are worried about.”
Sally Collet, who has been a volunteer for nine years, said the princess had asked how they cope. Sally explained they share their experiences with a leader at the end of each shift, which enables them to offload. She said it also helped that their role was to listen rather than to advise.
Sally added: “She talked to everyone. She seemed genuinely interested.”
It was not Sally’s first brush with royalty. She recalled serving Princess Diana in Boots in Knightsbridge when she went in to buy baby things for William.
Princess Alexandra unveiled a plaque to mark the 50th anniversary and was presented with a beautiful bouquet.
She said: “It has been absolutely charming, thank you very much. It is so kind of you all.”