Credit: Shutterstock/Chad Varah

Befriending has saved thousands of lives in Britain

Conducting a funeral in heartbreaking circumstances led to Chad Varah founding a worldwide charity which has saved countless lives listening to people who feel they have no-one to turn to.

Born the eldest of nine children in Nottinghamshire, Chad was academic, musical and a keen linguist with lots of interests and many potential futures, but when he left Oxford University was persuaded by his godfather, a Bishop, to become a Church of England vicar.

Chad ministered to the poorer communities of Barrow-in-Furness, Blackburn and Clapham Junction, also running youth clubs, visiting the sick and working as a hospital chaplain. He didn’t earn much and to support his young family, began an additional career writing stories for comics including The Eagle.

In 1935, he conducted the funeral of a girl who had taken her own life aged just 13. Unaware that what she was experiencing was her first period and with no-one to talk to, she had been terrified she was suffering from a venereal disease.

Chad started out by providing sex-education talks to young people, also becoming increasingly aware of the number of suicides happening every day and the plight of people who had no-one to talk to, no matter how difficult or embarrassing they feared their anxieties would seem.

On November 2, 1953, he launched a non-judgemental telephone listening service he envisaged as an emergency line for people feeling suicidal, staffed from the very beginning by volunteers. A newspaper ran the headline “Call the Good Samaritans” and the name stuck.

“Are you ordinary enough to be a Samaritan?” the charity asked would-be-volunteers.