BY A STAFF REPORTER THE 100th branch in Britain of the Samaritans, the voluntary organisation to help the suicidal and despairing by listening on the telephone and in personal interviews, and by befriending callers who need continued support, will be opened at Walsall, Staffordshire, on November 20. The movement. founded in 1953 by the Rev. Chad Varah, now has nine overseas branches, and 10 more branches arc being formed in Britain. Most branches are manned 24 hours a day. seven days a week. Since 1963, when it was first organised nationally, the number of suicides in England and Wales fell by more than 1,000. from 5,714 to 4,584 in 1968.
NO CONVERSIONS New clients last year totalled 42,241, dealt with by 11,204 interviewers at 92 branches. The Samaritans, a voluntary society with no official connections. secular or ecclesiastical, helped to form the International Federation for Emer
gency Telephonic Help Services. They are also affiliated to the international Association for Suicide Prevention, which held its fifth international conference at University College, London, in September. The president of the association is Prof. Erwin Stengel, who is one of the six presidents of the Samaritans. Samaritan volunteers are lay people from all walks of life who have been chosen for their human qualities. Most of them have no qualifications except a talent for friendship and a genuine concern for others. Although most are Christians, some are adherents of non-Christian religions or of no religion. After attending preparation classes they work under the direction of a professional person, usually a clergyman. who has a psychiatrist to advise him. No helper tries to convert clients to his own belief. The main, and original, branch is at St. Stephen's Church. Walbrook, London. E.C.4.