Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Q+A with Sarah, a Helpline Volunteer

We had a chat with Sarah, one of our Helpline Volunteers, about her role at Missing People. Sarah, along with staff and other volunteers in our dedicated Services team, runs a free, confidential and 24 hour helpline, 116 000, for anyone affected in any way by the missing issue. Sarah and the rest of the team receive 1,000 calls a month from vulnerable young people alone, who may be experiencing issues from bullying and family problems to sexual exploitation. Here's what she has to say about her experience - thanks Sarah!

1.     Tell us a bit about yourself. What do you do as a job / hobby apart from volunteering at Missing People?  

In my working life I worked in advertising for many years and then went on to start up a digital print company.   I now design and make silver jewellery.
My interests/hobbies include driving the lorry with my daughter’s horse, gardening and working on our allotment.
I volunteer for Missing People and am also a volunteer panel member for the Youth Offending Team.

2.     What do you like best about volunteering for Missing People?
No two shifts on the helplines are ever the same.  
The Supervisors on the Services Team and the other volunteers are all amazing to work with.
However busy or quiet a shift might be, you always come away thinking you have helped someone, somehow.

3.     What made you choose to volunteer for Missing People?
Seven years ago I was at the gym watching a Missing Programme and saw a story about a 19 year old male who had been out for the night with a group of friends and despite CCTV footage of him going to get a taxi in the early hours, there had been no trace for 2 years.   At the time my son was 17 and it had a huge impact on me – how would I feel if this was my son?   Where would I turn to?  No answers, no closure, ‘Living in Limbo’ every day – what would I do?

4.     Describe your typical day as a Missing People volunteer. What do you do? How do you go about your day? How long are you there for? Who do you work with?

Difficult question! There is no typical shift! As a volunteer we work a 4 hour shift once a week, either at 10am – 2pm, 2pm – 6pm or 6pm to 10pm.
We get calls from vulnerable adults, and from children who are thinking of running away or have left home or a care home and have nowhere to go.  Missing People have a ‘Message Home’ service so  we might take a message from someone who is away from home, would like their relative or partner to know they are safe and well, but do not feel ready to talk to them directly - we can agree the message with them and pass it on. As a confidential helpline we are not able to trace the call and do not know where the caller is.
We are also here to support the family 24-hours a day. We take calls from people whose son, daughter, mother, father, partner or close relative have gone missing.
Sometimes callers are depressed, and might be suicidal, homeless or have mental health issues.  We are able to signpost callers to other organisations that may be able to help, or to connect them to social services, the police or a loved one, on a 3-way call, staying on the line to support them.
We may get a call from a missing person who has received a letter from us saying that one of their relatives is looking for them, or they might be responding to a Textsafe message the police have asked us to send them, giving them details of our free, confidential helpline. 
We also have regular callers who look on Missing People as a listening ear, someone to talk to when they are feeling down. We are always caller led and will offer support in whatever way we can. 
As well as delivering the telephone helpline, we receive emails and texts asking for our help, these are responded to in the same way we would respond to a call, enabling us to communicate with people I whatever way makes them feel most comfortable.

5.     Please could you share with us the most memorable experience you’ve had as a Missing People volunteer?

One of the most memorable experiences was the Christmas Carol Service at St Martin-in-the-fields church. Supporting the families with missing loved ones before and after the service was very humbling and moving: a lady who is still searching for her sister, 55 years since she went missing as a 16 year old; a family whose mother was missing for several weeks and then was sadly found in the river nearby. Whatever their 'story' they were all there to remember their loved one, many of them still living in hope after so many years.  

6.     What’s the trickiest part of your role as a volunteer?

Very often when working on the helpline, you have to live with the fact that you may never know the outcome of a call you have taken.

For example, a 14 year-old girl called the helpline for advice - she had run away from home because her mother was violent and threatening towards her. I connected her on a 3-way call to Social Services, staying on the line to help her explain her feelings and her situation. Social Services took over from there. We may never hear from that girl again and I may never know what happened next. I can only hope that the small part we played helped her to stay safe and to move forward in a positive way.

7.     What advice would you give to someone thinking of volunteering for Missing People?

I would tell anyone thinking about volunteering for Missing People that it is the most rewarding thing I have ever done. You really feel like you are making a difference. The training, support and encouragement the charity offers all their volunteers is brilliant. I cannot speak highly enough about this amazing charity!

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Someone is reported missing every 90 seconds in the UK. The Missing Blog aims to give a voice to all those affected by this issue.

Written by families and friends of missing people, supporters working to raise awareness of the cause, and volunteers and staff at the charity Missing People, we hope that this blog will offer a window into the issue of missing.

The charity Missing People is a lifeline when someone disappears. To find out more about Missing People and ways that you can support the charity visit

Call or text the charity Missing People for free on 116 000, 24/7 if you or anyone you know is affected by a disappearance.