Why did you want to work with Samaritans?
William: As someone who has lived in London all my life, my views align very much with King’s ambition to be a civic university that wants to give back to our local communities. And as someone who aims to study medicine next year, I know the importance of mental health. Both of these factors led me to want to work within the central London branch of Samaritans, which provides 24/7 support to those in need.
Despite being a workforce of less than 200 people, Samaritans boast more than 20,000 volunteers. I found the volunteer-driven nature of charity inspiring, as I witnessed just how much time and effort these volunteers give to support Samaritans.
Jasmine: I picked Samaritans as my top choice as it was a charity that I was familiar with as Samaritans befrienders also serve in Hong Kong, with the same goal to lower suicide rates. I was excited to work in the UK for the very first time as I had previously been based in Hong Kong, and interning through CLA was a great opportunity for me to experience working with people from other cultures.
At the time of my CLA interview, there was a bereavement in my family which also made me want to work with Samaritans as I wanted to learn how to offer mental support to people feeling emotionally fragile without sounding condescending or inadvertently offensive. Being an active listener is essential not only when providing psychological support but also in careers that require you to converse with different clients and colleagues.
What did your roles with Central London Samaritans entail?
William: Jasmine and I worked together as Outreach Interns. During our first month with Samaritans we worked a traditional 9-5 day, with the idea being to learn as much as we could about how the charity is run, the outreach events the charity organises and the stages of becoming a volunteer, which included us attending training sessions to get an idea of what skills are required.
Once the academic year started, our work transitioned to 5 hours a week in the central London Samaritans branch. Throughout the year, we worked with Emma, the Branch Director for Central London Samaritans, and Mark, the Head of Outreach. We were working on heading up a project that dealt with the lack of diversity within the cohort of volunteers, a topic that has become ever more prominent as a result of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Jasmine: During our first month with Samaritans, Will and I brainstormed and identified that there was a lack of diversity in staff, support volunteers and listening volunteers. Throughout the year we attended different talks, training, events with the main goal of recruiting more King’s students from diverse ethnic groups to volunteer with Samaritans. We came to an understanding that Samaritans is considered as a privileged white community in which individuals have more time and money to volunteer, as compared to other lower-income groups. We also realised that many ethnic communities were prevented from acting as listening volunteers due to various cultural and religious reasons.
How did you aim to help Samaritans solve this problem?
Jasmine: Will and I aimed to hold a panel discussion in front of a live audience at King’s, which we called a “fireside chat”. Each intended panellist was chosen based on them possessing a unique and interesting insight into either mental health and wellbeing, why diversity and inclusion in Samaritans is important, or what it is like being a student volunteer.
The choice to hold the event at King’s was made early on in our discussions as it allowed us to reach out to King’s students and staff. As King’s is one of the most diverse Russell Group universities, this meant that we would be addressing a largely multicultural audience. I drew on my experience as the President of the KCLSU student society BAME in the City, which is driving diversity and inclusion in the corporate workspace, to help us think through ways of encouraging participation in our fireside chat. As of March, a number of Central London Samaritans volunteers and King’s students were interested in attending the fireside chat. However, we had to postpone this event in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.