ARU hosts first Samaritans university hub in UK

Published: 10 January 2022 at 00:01

Student volunteer at the Anglia Ruskin Samaritans Hub

On-campus duty room, staffed by trained students, is piloted in Cambridge

Samaritans, the leading suicide prevention charity, is teaming up with Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) students as part of a new partnership aimed at developing more online and digital support services in the wake of the global pandemic.

With the ways we communicate changing, and increasing pressure on mental health and wellbeing, Samaritans is joining forces with ARU to pilot a new on-campus duty room – the first of its kind in the UK – where fully trained students and staff deliver digital-only support to anyone struggling to cope.

The initiative will see volunteers from the Anglia Ruskin Samaritans Hub in Cambridge help the charity with their online chat pilot, a digital innovation Samaritans is trialling in an effort to meet new and changing demands and ensure they are offering the most effective support possible to those who need it, wherever they are in the UK.

Alongside this, the partnership is also piloting Samaritans placements for students from relevant courses, such as Mental Health Nursing and Social Work, which will provide a unique experience for students undertaking professionally regulated programmes. These two-week virtual placements enable students to gain a thorough grounding in the work of Samaritans, enhance their knowledge and skills around how to be a supportive and active listener, and build competence in having conversations with vulnerable people.

As well as benefitting the students, Samaritans and Anglia Ruskin University’s strategic partnership will help to increase the variety, skills and experience of Samaritans’ volunteer base and the range of ways the charity can offer support to anyone in need. The students’ experiences are being evaluated by researchers, thanks to funding from Health Education England, East of England, with a view to similar partnerships being rolled out elsewhere.

Colin Hill, Anglia Ruskin Samaritans Hub Service Director, said:

“I started volunteering with Samaritans when I was in my mid-20s and now, as a senior Samaritans volunteer for the past five years, it’s an honour to lead our very first university hub. After training the students and faculty members to be Samaritans volunteers, we’re excited to launch and begin to offer support to anyone who might be finding things difficult. 

"There is a growing need for people to have a variety of options if they are struggling and need to reach out, and the pandemic has only made this need more urgent. That’s why it’s vital we test and develop our online chat pilot, through initiatives such as this Anglia Ruskin University partnership, so eventually Samaritans can offer more digital, written-word choices for those who prefer communicating in that way. I hope the success of this university partnership will be the first of many.” 

Professor Nigel Harrison, Pro Vice Chancellor and Dean of the Faculty of Health, Education, Medicine and Social Care at Anglia Ruskin University (ARU), added:

“ARU provides its students with a comprehensive range of mental health and wellbeing support. This new initiative allows our students to give something back by offering assistance to the general public. Through our trained staff and student volunteers, Samaritans will be able to help more people across the UK – whether in Ipswich or Inverness, Cardiff or Coleraine – through this new online support facility.

"Additionally, ARU students undertaking health and care courses, such as Mental Health Nursing, Paramedic Science and Social Work, will benefit from rewarding placements with Samaritans. We are honoured to be supporting such an important charity and the presence of the Samaritans Hub on campus will also hopefully help to further normalise conversations around mental health amongst our own students and staff.”

Samaritans is there for everyone, 24 hours a day, seven days a week and this is only possible because of more than 20,000 selfless volunteers across the UK and Republic of Ireland that donate their time.

Samaritans has trained its first cohort of Anglia Ruskin University volunteers to offer support at their Cambridge campus and has run two placement programmes. The partnership aims to roll out more volunteer and placement opportunities at Anglia Ruskin campuses in both Cambridge and Chelmsford over the coming year.

Anyone can contact Samaritans, free, 24/7, 365 days a year, on 116 123, email jo@samaritans.org or visit www.samaritans.org.