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Life

Libraries NI and Samaritans team up for Brew Monday on 'saddest day of year'

Libraries NI have teamed up with Samaritans for Brew Monday, a new initiative aimed at getting people out to their library next month for a chat over a cuppa on what has been described as the saddest day of the year, writes Noel McAdam

Libraries NI have teamed up with Samaritans for Brew Monday, an initiative designed to get people out for a cuppa in their local library on January 21, the 'saddest day of the year'
Noel McAdam

SOMETIMES they are seen as a means of escape; people go to the library to fall into fiction – or, perhaps, to find out about someone or something else (biography, autobiography, non-fiction, etc). Except these days libraries are no longer only havens for books.

In recent times an outreach element has been added, to the point where some libraries are all but community centres. For example, Lisburn's main library has a 'meet and greet' morning on Fridays where people are encouraged to came and make new friends.

A sewing circle made up – unsurprisingly – entirely of women gets together every Monday morning in the library in Portadown.

Now, in a new initiative, Libraries NI are linking up with Samaritans next month on what has become called the "saddest" day of the year.

Robert Bell, the Belfast director of Samaritans

On January 21 Samaritans are urging people to beat Blue Monday by going to their local library for a chinwag – and a cuppa. Nothing to do with the 1983 New Order song, Blue Monday began as a piece of public relations but has become something of an annual date – now usually the third Monday of January.

The combination of the distance from Christmas, its resulting debt levels, wintry weather, collapse of stout new year resolutions, low motivation just at the time of a shared feeling for the need for action – diet, work, family – as well as the start of another week have all resulted in the day being seen as the most depressing day of the year.

And depression, of course, is where Samaritans come in, although the organisation no longer emphasises its services to the 'suicidal and despairing'; it is for anyone going through a bad patch. So it will soon officially announce its plans for 'Brew Monday'.

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Preparations are still continuing for the UK-wide plan but so far, its only in Northern Ireland that libraries are involved. And Libraries NI service development manager Julie Reid told The Irish News they are delighted to be "supporting the fantastic work undertaken by the Samaritans".

"What better way is there to help beat the January blues than by having a cup of tea with friends in the library?" Julie said.

She added: "Many of our libraries are taking part and I would like to invite people to call into a participating library near you on Monday January 21.

"They can have a cup of tea and a chat and pick up some helpful information leaflets which will be available in the library branches."

Senior Samaritan volunteer in Belfast Ken Bamford found he was pushing an open door when he went to ask the library sector to support Brew Monday. The dedication of 60-year-old Ken – who has been a Samaritan for more than 12 years – in raising funds for the charity knows no bounds.

Earlier this year he cycled the 2,000 miles from his front door in Carryduff to Gibraltrar, pedalling via Rosslare, Cherbourg, hugging the French west coast to the border town of Hendaye and down through central Spain, passing through the cities of Leon, Salamanca, Seville and Cadiz.

"I had turned 60 and this was something I had always wanted to do," he said.

Volunteer

Ken became a volunteer after discovering late in life his own father had been a volunteer and describes it as "just being there for somebody".

"You don't judge but just help them explore what their options are. Sometimes when we verbalise our feelings we're in a better place to make sense of them and find a way forward."

And his link-up with libraries has gained the full support of the Belfast Samaritans director Robert Bell.

"Isolation and loneliness are one of the main reasons people contact Samaritans, so getting together for a brew with friends can provide a life on what is meant to be one of the most difficult days of the year," Robert said.

In their publicity campaign, Samaritans say January 21 is dubbed 'the most difficult day of the year' and aims to turn that on its head by encouraging people to get together over a cuppa.

Details are still being worked on but some branches in the UK are also planning tea parties, at workplaces, local cafes and other locations and one of the main partners across the water is Network Rail.

Businesses are being urged to hold their own brew days. Joanna Kramer of the Wellbeing Network said: "The benefits to business are many – charitable giving always increases staff morale, but the day really gets people talking about wellbeing which raises our profile and helps to improve staff wellbeing."

Across the UK, via its freephone number, Samaritans volunteers handle around five million calls a year.

One of the callers, Gina, agreed to tell her story to boost the Brew Monday campaign.

She suffered from depression and began to feel overwhelmed by her workload to the point where the simplest of tasks became challenging.

Simplest tasks a 'challenge'

"I became so stressed I began contemplating suicide and that's when I reached out to Samaritans. I didn't feel confident to tell friends or family" she said.

"But with Samaritans it was OK; they didn't judge me, they just listened [and] gave me courage and the strength to keep going one particular night, so I got home safely. They got me through and supported me in my darkest times and I feel so much more comfortable with talking about everything."

In Belfast, however, the Samaritans currently need more volunteers. Fundraiser Ken said: "Our only problem is that we don't have more volunteers. We take a call every six seconds in the UK and Ireland.

"Personally for me [volunteering with Samaritans] has increased my appreciation of what I have, my family and friends."

See samaritans.org and watch out for Brew Monday details at librariesni.org.uk and in your local library early in the new year.

:: Samaritans freephone number is 116 123 throughout both Ireland and Britain. If you would prefer to communicate by email, do so at jo@samaritans.org (Northern Ireland and Britain) or jo@samaritans.ie (Republic of Ireland).

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