Many of us on the Three Rings team are, or have previously been, Samaritans volunteers ourselves. Some of us have even been lucky enough to be Samaritans volunteers at any of the growing number of branches that use Three Rings to manage their rota. But – until today – not one of us had the opportunity to visit General Office, the Ewell-based headquarters of the national Samaritans charity.
Few volunteers do. Perhaps that’s why there are so many misunderstandings about what it is or what everybody there does (images of an enormous soulless corporate skyscraper couldn’t be further from the truth). But today, a handful of volunteers from the Three Rings core team got the chance to visit General Office to learn more about the Samaritans Connect project. This project – funded by the Chad Varah Appeal – aims to provide a sophisticated new platform to help ensure that callers can always get through to an available volunteer, no matter where they are, and could provide valuable emotional support to up to 370,000 callers per year.
We could perhaps have picked a better day to visit! Heavy snowfall this week has cut off parts of Surrey, and, while the old millpond behind the charity’s offices looked particularly beautiful covered with ice and surrounded by snow-covered trees, it did make driving conditions on the roads nearby a little hair-raising at times! Nonetheless, it was great to make it there and to finally visit the place: both as Samaritans volunteers, who wanted to see “where the magic happens” and with our Three Rings hats (well: shirts!) on, to try to better-understand the work done by Samaritans and to discover how we can help to make their plans come to fruition.
By better-understanding how they plan to make the Samaritans Connect project a reality, we can now be far more confident when we provide new services through Three Rings that we’re not “treading on the toes” of the Samaritans Connect project. Moreover, we’ve laid the groundwork that might one day allow rota management to integrate harmoniously with other IT systems within Samaritans, which would be of benefit to many thousands of listening volunteers.
We were also pleased to hear about many of the open standards that the Samaritans Connect project will be embracing. This means that in making sure that Three Rings is compatible with Samaritans Connect, we may also be able to improve connectivity between Three Rings and other third-party services, too. Of course, in accordance with our privacy and security policies, any such integration will only be done with the co-operation of the helpline involved, and there’s an immensely long way to go before you’ll be able to, for example, sign in to Three Rings’ rota management system and your organisation’s other IT systems simultaneously, sharing data completely effortlessly between them… but today we made an important step, and we thought we’d share that with you.