Becoming a listening volunteer for the rail industry's Million Hour Challenge

9 October 2020
Karen Barnes
Karen Barnes
HM Inspector of Railways

Since 2010, the rail industry has been at the forefront of promoting good mental health and wellbeing, while also supporting the Samaritans in its work.

It is this work with the Samaritans that not only has an impact on your own life but can also impact on others too.

I first became involved with the Samaritans following a tragic loss in the family and it got me thinking about the overwhelming support I received from my family, friends and ORR and also about what I would have done and who I would have spoken to if I hadn’t had that support network around me.

This wasn’t long after our HM Chief Inspector of Railways, Ian Prosser had helped to launch the Million Hour Challenge in April 2019 – an initiative for the rail industry to complete one million hours supporting Samaritans in five years, ending March 2024.

The idea being that the Million Hour Challenge will not only help Samaritans but also be beneficial for the mental health of all of us in the sector who volunteer our time.

I got involved because I wanted to give something back and so I decided to become a Samaritans listening volunteer. The programme of training was one of the best I’ve done. The support was amazing and the trainers were very upbeat despite the difficult subjects we deal with.

I now spend three to four hours a week at the Ware (Herts and Essex) branch taking calls, listening and supporting people. It really is an honour and privilege to be there during someone’s time of need and to explore their options with them.

We all think that we listen but actually when you do the training you realise you don’t listen as well as you may think.

Volunteering has really improved my mental wellbeing and it has also improved my competence at work, as well as given me a lot of skills that I can take back into my role at the ORR.

It gives you a sense of fulfilment to be able to help someone and I would encourage everyone to consider becoming a listening volunteer for Samaritans. There are a lot of other things you can do too in terms of fundraising and organising events, and Samaritans will welcome any other resource you can provide. Even dedicating an hour to the Million Hour Challenge could really help make a difference.

Railway colleagues can learn more about getting involved with the Million Hour Challenge or how to become a listening volunteer by visiting the Samaritans website.