While the nominees in all of the RailStaff Awards categories can be called ‘heroes’ for the work that they do, those who win the Samaritans Lifesaver Award have every justification to be called that.
In 2019, 133 people were nominated for this category, the only one that got into triple figures. The nominations can make harrowing reading, describing how ordinary rail staff, with the benefit of Samaritans training, have had to comfort vulnerable people and often prevent them from doing themselves harm.
Reading the nominations is hard enough. Trying to judge the relative merits of one person’s actions compared with those of another is really difficult. It may be a cliché, but the phrase “you are all winners” is particularly true in this category.
Small talk saves lives
But the judges have to make the call and, in 2019, Land Sheriffs’ John Dawson and Rob Shannon were awarded the 2019 trophy for their compassion, sensitivity and confidence to engage in small talk.
While on patrol as one of the company’s ‘safer station teams’, the pair noticed a woman wandering around the station who appeared upset but was not looking to board a train.
They approached her, but she was initially reluctant to talk, so John and Rob gave her some space. However, she soon re-engaged with them and admitted she intended to end her life.
John and Rob spoke with her to keep her calm and away from platforms and crowds, as this seemed to be making her agitated. They took her to the station coffee shop for a hot drink to warm her up and chatted away to keep her calm. In all, they sat with her for over two hours while waiting for the emergency services, who were extremely stretched on the night, to arrive.
The police were the first to arrive on the scene but their presence caused the woman to become agitated, so they withdrew and left her with John and Rob.
A short while later, an ambulance turned up. The Land Sheriffs walked the woman to the ambulance, however, as soon as she stepped into the vehicle, she became aggressive.
She was let out but, with the assistance of John and Rob, she was convinced to get back in. As she was still slightly agitated, the duo offered to go with her to the hospital, an offer gratefully accepted by both the woman and the paramedics.
Chris Gough, Land Sheriffs’ operations manager, commented: “Every day is different for John and Rob. They receive Samaritans training and use this to approach vulnerable persons and, on this occasion, they saw a vulnerable person, they approached her and, by doing so, prevented the unthinkable and gave her the help that she needed.”
Samaritans training officer Steve Tollerton added: “We’re very proud of these guys. The training is so important, but it’s not the training itself, it’s the guys stepping out of their comfort zone and approaching a suicidal person and saving someone’s life. Ultimately, its takes courage and confidence to do that, which is a credit to them.”
Challenge and campaigns
Training rail staff so they have the confidence and skills to help someone at risk of suicide is a key part of Samaritans work with the rail industry’s suicide prevention programme, which it has been involved with since 2010. In addition to the training, Samaritans in partnership with the rail industry deliver a number of other workstreams to reach those most at risk of suicide on the railway and to help improve the mental health of rail staff.
During Network Rail’s control period six (CP6 – 2019 to 2024), the rail industry is coming together to volunteer one million hours to help Samaritans achieve its vision that fewer people die by suicide, providing more support for people experiencing emotional distress.
The Million Hour Challenge, which aims to help improve the mental health and wellbeing of rail industry employees, was conceived by Ian Prosser, chief inspector of railways at the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) and launched on 28 March 2019.
As part of the Million Hour Challenge, rail staff across Great Britain will be encouraged to take part in a ‘Samarathon’ to raise vital funds for a local Samaritans branch and to boost their own physical and mental health. Supporters are being asked to run, jog or walk 26.2 miles in their own time and at their own pace, over the month of July in a virtual marathon.
Samaritans’ ‘Real People, Real Stories’ campaign, which sees people who have overcome tough times share their stories to encourage others to seek help, was launched in March 2019. It continues to be visible in hundreds of railway stations and a number of high-profile sports clubs have also been involved. The campaign has been a success, proving to be more effective than any other previous Samaritans campaign in raising awareness of the rail suicide prevention partnership, particularly amongst the 25-34 age group.
Another successful campaign, Small Talk Saves Lives, entered its fourth phase in October 2019. Developed and delivered by Samaritans, Network Rail and the wider rail industry, it reached thousands of rail passengers and the general public through a range of paid-for media including TV, video on demand, cinema, digital and social media.
In a TV first, the Small Talk Saves Lives, Samaritans and National Rail logos appeared on a silent Network Rail advert within Britain’s Got Talent on 5 October 2019. Viewers were encouraged to use the two and a half minutes of silence to talk to family, loved ones or even text a friend. The advert was seen by over eight million viewers.
Come November, more people and more stories like John and Rob’s and their heroic efforts will be acknowledged at the RailStaff Awards. “Samaritans are so proud to sponsor the RailStaff Awards again this year,” said Neil Peters, Samaritans’ strategic programme manager. “Every year, we are overwhelmed with stories of rail staff that have made lifesaving interventions on the railway. Year on year, we are seeing this shift in behaviour, where more interventions are happening and more lives are saved.
“We are really proud to continue to work with the rail industry to give staff the skills and confidence to make a difference. The LifeSaver award is an opportunity to say thank you.”