A NORTH Yorkshire branch of a charity that supports people in crisis is hoping to develop a dedicated fundraising arm.

The Northallerton and the Dales branch of the Samaritans, which this year celebrates its 50th anniversary, relies on volunteers to help with the ongoing fundraising needed to keep it solvent.

Now it is hoping to develop a Friends of Northallerton and Dales Samaritans to help with the task.

The charity was set up in North Yorkshire in 1964 after a coroner raised concerns about the high suicide rate amongst the county’s farming community.

Its early volunteers included Thirsk vets Alf Wright and his business partner Donald Sinclair, better known as TV's James Herriot and Siegfried Farnham.

Now the branch is experiencing more demand than ever.

Last year its 44 volunteers answered more than 20,000 calls for help.

Nationally, the charity also saw a 12 per cent increase in emails from people needing help. About 22 per cent of calls it received were from people experiencing suicidal feelings.

Ian Watt, director of Northallerton and the Dales Samaritans, said: “I am so grateful to our volunteers at Northallerton. We wouldn’t exist without the commitment of these generous people, and I want to thank them all for their hard work and dedication.

“We know that our callers benefit from having a real person at the end of the line, someone who is trained to really listen to them.

“It’s great to see that no matter their age or length of service, our volunteers deliver the same fantastic service through many different channels.

“The huge number of calls we are receiving shows that we need as many volunteers as possible.

“As well as listening on the helpline, there are lots of ways people can get involved at Samaritans, whether it’s doing admin, fundraising or IT; we can use their skills.”

As well as dealing with thousands of telephone calls each year from people in distress, the group is increasingly going out into the community.

They are currently working in partnership with Network Rail and British Transport Police at Northallerton station to try and prevent suicides. The work includes regular patrols of the town’s station by Samaritans volunteers.

The group has also been involved in projects in Catterick Garrison, helping military families with issues such as post traumatic stress disorder and domestic abuse.

Volunteers are also carrying out visits to schools and colleges to work with students.

Anyone wanting to help by volunteering or fundraising should contact the branch’s helpline number on 01609-776161 or email northallertonsamaritans@talktalk.net

Anyone needing the help of the Samaritans can also contact them on 08457-90-90-90.