Famed actress Julie Walters took on a comedy role as she officially opened a newly-refurbished ‘listening room’ at the Samaritans centre in Horsham today.
National treasure Dame Julie clowned with bystanders as she officially unveiled a special plaque - dedicated to the Horsham and Crawley Samaritans’ longest-serving volunteer Tony Tee - at the centre in Denne Road.
She joked to Tony as the pair turned to grasp a cord to reveal the plaque: “Do you want me to help pull it, as the actress said to the bishop.” And as she went for a re-take of the unveiling for photographers, she said: “Even the Queen has to do this.”
Julie, who lives in Billingshurst and has starred in a string of stage, TV and film roles, said: “The Samaritans service is utterly vital. The biggest killer of men under 50 is suicide. I can’t think of anything worse than not having someone to talk to. No matter what the problem is - if it’s acne or something much worse - people can feel very isolated.”
Calls to Samaritans have steadily increased over the years and to cope with this Samaritans nationally have launched a new UK wide telephone answering system that has required all branches to install new equipment to handle the calls. Local branch director Roger Dugdale said: “This equipment takes up quite a bit of room and our old listening booths were no longer fit for purpose.
“They were cramped, hot and generally uncomfortable. The branch is enormously grateful to the Sussex Community Foundation and to The Plaisterers’ Lodge for their very generous donations that have enabled us to create these comfortable conditions for our volunteers. We are delighted with our new, more open, airy and pleasant layout.”
The new listening room is dedicated to Tony Tee who was one of the first listening volunteers at Samaritans of Horsham & Crawley when the branch opened in May 1973 and who is still listening today. “We wanted to recognise Tony’s incomparable service and this seemed a good way to do it,” said Roger. “It also recognises the amazing service all our volunteers give every day of the year. Our 110 volunteers answer telephone calls, emails and texts as well as seeing personal visitors at the branch. This amounts to over 17,000 contacts annually.”
The refurbishment project was managed by premises officer Jeff Thomas who said: “This was a big undertaking for us and it was also time critical as we needed to keep the branch open as much as possible during the refurbishment work. Our contractors, Interior Concepts, were very easy to work with and we’re delighted with the results. Getting the acoustics right was one of the most challenging problems to sort out but with the addition of some clear acoustic panels from Ashdown AV we now have the best solution possible.”
Meanwhile, Julie, who first achieved international stardom when she played the title role in Education Rita with Michael Caine in 1983, revealed that she is currently filming a Mamma Mia sequel which is due to be released next year. And she has a string of other films that will soon be hitting the big screen. Due to be released shortly is a film called Country Music, along with a new Paddington movie and a Mary Poppins re-make which is due to come out at Christmas next year.
“I’ve also got a documentary coming out in the autumn called Coastal Rail Journey Round Britain. It was great fun making it and interviewing people whose lives have been shaped by the railway.” It is to be shown on Channel 4.
It’s clearly been a busy time for Julie, who lives with husband Grant Roffey on an organic farm in Billingshurst. “Once Mamma Mia is over I’m going to have a lie down for about a year.”
The Samaritans can be contacted by phoning 116 123 free of charge from landlines, mobiles and phone boxes from anywhere in the UK or locally on 01403 276276 (local charges apply); Text 07725 909090 and email firstname.lastname@example.org; or visit 21 Denne Road, Horsham RH12 1JE (call for opening time or see the website).
Further information: www.samaritans.org/horsham&crawley. Anyone interested in volunteering should email email@example.com mentioning Horsham & Crawley, phone 01403 276276 or call into the branch for an information pack.