A CHARITY is aiming to put Stratford on the map as the UK’s first ‘listening town’.
Stratford Samaritans has created the Listening Town Campaign to make the town a place where ‘It’s OK to say you’re not OK’ by encouraging residents to lend an ear.
The Tyler Street charity – which offers emotional support via a helpline or face-to-face – has come up with five listening tips known as SHUSH – show you care, have patience, use open questions, say it back and have courage.
The simple aim is to encourage people to look out for one another by asking someone if they are OK – from people with mental health difficulties, to those recovering from addiction, to people struggling to pay their rent.
The campaign is funded by a grant from Stratford Town Trust which will cover volunteer training costs to meet a growing demand for talks and workshops in schools, workplaces and the wider community.
The charity – which is a partner in the Warwickshire Suicide Prevention Strategy – say less than a third of people who committed suicide had sought help, and Samaritans hope the campaign will also encourage people to open up about their feelings.
The campaign launch coincides with a new Samaritans drop-in session at Stratford Hospital, in addition to the one based at Warwick Hospital which has operated for more than 20 years,
Volunteer Ali Berkley said the sessions had helped the charity understand the value of being able to talk about problems with someone.
She told The Observer: “As a Samaritans volunteer, I have experienced the power of listening, really listening to people share their thoughts and feelings.
“The campaign is about encouraging us all to listen to the really important things our friends, family and colleagues need to tell us.
“When people feel listened to, it can save a life.
“And the opportunity to be a good listener can come at any time – when you are waiting for a bus, queuing in the supermarket, filling up at the petrol station or nipping out to get your lunch.
“We can all become better listeners with our SHUSH listening tips and make Stratford a listening town.”
Stratford Town Trust spokesperson Rachel Jones added although there was a growing awareness of mental health, there were still too many people unable to admit they were struggling.
She added: “Stratford Samaritans’ Listening Town Campaign offers a simple, practical way of tackling this issue head on by making us all better listeners.”
The Samaritans holds its drop-in session at Cafe Lomas on the ground floor of Stratford Hospital on Mondays from 10am to 1pm.
Alternatively the branch on Tyler Street is open during certain hours. Visit www.samaritans.org for more information.
Search @ListeningTown on Twitter to follow the campaign.