ONLY a blind man could fail to see the gigantic poster displayed high on the broad, black tower of St. Paul's (Anglican) Church, New Cross, Manchester, less than five minutes walk from Piccadilly, the hub of the city.
In bright, red lettering it poses the question:"Who is your neighbour?" 'Beneath, against a background of a telephone dial, it ..suppIies the answer:"The Samaritans. BLA. 9000".
Just inside the main entrance to the church is a small door bearing a simplg appeal:"Please come in".
I did so (writes F. C. Price). Inside I found myself standing in a narrow passage. On my right were two cubicles which could he screened off with curtains. Each was furnished with easy chairs and low tables, and was obviously intended as a "consulting" room where people could feel at ease.
At the end, beyond these, was the door leading into the main office, the operations centre of the Manchester Telephone Samaritans.
The office was staffed by four Samaritans—three women of varying ages and a young man in his earls twenties. The atmosphere was informal and pleasant. Like all Samaritans they were volunteers, doing a four hour stint. Only those on night duty work longer.
On one wall was a large map of the area for 30 miles around Manchester, stretching from Macclesfield in the south to Bolton in the north. It was dotted . with round-headed pins locating the homes of other volunteer Samaritans who are prepared to dash out at a moment's notice should the need arise.
Pieces of thread ran from the pins to two lists of names. The one on the right consisted of over 50 clergymen (Anglican, Catholic and Free Church) doctors, psychiatrists and other social workers prepared for action during the day.
That on the left was the night rota. Whenever there is an emergency these people turn out, no matter what the weather, to render what help they can to someone in distress.
On one desk stood a telephone. Its number, "BLAckfilltrs 9000". This is the vital line of succour, the link that gives hope and help.
It is equipped with two ear pieces. While one Samaritan keeps the caller talking, another can listen in and move to the second telephone — known as "The admin line"—to set the wheels of succour in motion.
The Manchester Samaritans organisation has come a long way since it was launched five years ago. Then it had two private telephones. Today it has over 350 members with "satellites" at Bolton. Ashton-underLyne, Bury and Macclesfield.
The organisation has been streantlined with a "Senior Sam aritan" on duty every night at the busiest time. He is assisted by "Probationer Samaritans" and "Helpers".
The Annual Report, published this week, reveals that in the last twelve months the total number of callers was 3,345. Of these 1,473 were already on the files. having made use of the Samaritan service previously.
The number of new callers, 7.873, was 283 fewer than in the preceding year, a decline attributed to the "novelty and drama" of the service wearing off.
Nevertheless, the report flints out that a far greater proportion were "true Samaritan cases". genuinely in need of help and advice. It continues:"What this year has shown is the extent and continuity of befriending needed, once the first-aid situation is past."
Reference is made to the typeof caller who feels the need to maintain frequent contact over a vital period. An example is quoted ot a man who made 51 calls in a month "which helped to support him until he could receive treatment in a psychiatric hospital".
Some established callers "develop their own rhythms of need, some every three months, some every year. Others "disappear into hospitals and prisons" and contact is lost until they are released.
During the last twelve months slightly more men have called the Samaritans than women, some 52 per cent as against 48 per cent. Of all callers 48 per cent • were married, 25 per cent W single and 10 per cent divorced or separated. The status of 13 per cent was unknown.
'the report says 14 per cent of the calls were made by people under 25 years of age, 22 per cent by those between 25 and 40 and 15 per cent by those over 40 but under 60.
Thirty five per cent of all calls were concerned with depression, anxiety and mental illness and 28 per cent with marital relationships. Other problems causing people to call on the Samaritans have involved financial aid, accommodation, loneliness, suicide, drugs and alcoholism.
But, no matter what time of day or night, or whatever the problem, BLAckfriars 9000 has never failed to answer.