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Creating change with Central London Samaritans

Samaritans aims to provide emotional support to anyone in distress, struggling to cope, or at risk of suicide, often through their telephone helpline which is available 24/7. King’s students, William Sheridan (Biomedicine) and Jasmine Kwok (Geography), interned with Central London Samaritans as part of their time with King’s Civic Leadership Academy, which supports students to create change in our local communities through a programme of charity work experience, training and mentoring.

King's Civic Leadership Academy (CLA) launched in 2019, with the first group of fifty second-year undergraduate students or ‘Civic Scholars’, many of whom are from under-represented backgrounds. Over the summer, the first cohort of Civic Scholars interned full-time with one of eighteen London charities. During term time, the scholars continued to work five hours a week for their charity whilst participating in a structured leadership programme.

The CLA programme offers students and community partners an opportunity to work together to address some of London’s most complex issues. ​

We spoke to Jasmine and Will about their time with King’s Civic Leadership Academy and Central London Samaritans to find out more about their experience.


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.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, our work at Samaritans has halted. However, after observing the work that the charity accomplishes, I truly feel like my time at Samaritans is not yet finished. In the not-too-distant future, I would love to return and be trained as a volunteer.– William Sheridan, King's Civic Scholar and Biomedicine student

What have you gained from your internships with Central London Samaritans?

William: My biggest takeaway from working with Samaritans is learning about the importance of empathy and active listening. It’s something that Samaritans volunteers keep at the heart of all their conversations with vulnerable callers. Active listening is now something I use in my day-to-day life, when speaking with friends. Before working in the Samaritans, when friends spoke to me about their problems, my instinct was to provide them with a solution. Active listening teaches you that, more often than not, people don’t want a solution, and we as listeners often don’t know all the facts to give advice. It’s best to encourage people to talk through their thoughts and feelings so they can best decide how to respond going forward.

Jasmine: Interning with Central London Samaritans has been an extremely fruitful experience and I felt warmly welcomed by the team. Both Emma and Mark were supportive and open about our project, giving us a considerable degree of freedom to design and plan based on what we felt was the best approach. Organising the fireside chat was a particularly great experience, as it sharpened my time-management, leadership and interpersonal skills through reaching out to different panellists and societies.

How did the Civic Leadership Academy help you prepare for your internship with the Central London Samaritans?

William: The Civic Leadership Academy was fantastic in every aspect, both leading up to and during our internship. Having already worked for two years before starting at King’s, I already felt prepared going into an internship role, but the readiness week they organised in August last year was an insightful and enjoyable experience.

Jasmine: The Civic Leadership Academy team supported me in every possible way, especially during the intense training week in August with a series of events and talks to equip scholars with leadership skills. During this week we met inspiring guest speakers, such as Devika Wood, an innovation and strategy consultant, and James Frater, a current King’s medical student with exceptional achievements. I also had the opportunity to contribute to a film about CLA which was a great experience and helped me to reflect on my internship journey.

Being part of the first cohort of Civic Scholars has been an incredible journey and I look forward to the next cohort of scholars contributing even more than us. I would encourage any King’s students to apply for the Civic Leadership Academy as this is a fantastic opportunity to give back to our local communities.– Jasmine Kwok, King's Civic Scholar and Geography student

Applications to be part of King's Civic Leadership Academy, which will run in a different format in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, will be open to second year undergraduate students in September. If you are interested in applying, click here to find out more.

The team are looking to work with charities, social enterprises, community interest companies, trusts and foundations to be our community partners and to build the next generation of civic leaders. If you are interested in becoming a community partner, click here to learn more. If you know of an organisation that might be interested, get in touch.

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