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Helping hands: how our volunteers support suicide prevention charity CALM

01 March 2019


Every month, colleagues from across Octopus volunteer with suicide prevention charity CALM (The Campaign Against Living Miserably). We spoke to them about how an extra pair of hands can make a difference.

Suicide remains the biggest killer of men under 45 in the UK. Every week, an average of 84 men take their own lives. CALM is taking a stand against those statistics by encouraging men to share their experiences – and get the help they need.

Octopus Giving has supported CALM for years. In 2015, our fundraising helped CALM to add another new seat on their phone hotline. But charities like CALM don’t just need financial support – they need people to invest their time, too.

Putting in the hours

Raising funds, providing support, organising volunteers… For smaller charities, getting everything done can be hard work. As Volunteer Coordinator at CALM, Jess Kimche is always looking for extra pairs of hands to help.

“Our Octopus volunteers make such a difference,” says Jess. “They make sure our supporters get everything they need – and give our team time to focus on what they do best.”

Take fundraising packs. When a supporter wants to host an event, CALM provides them with all the materials they need to help raise awareness of CALM, everything from postcards to T-shirts and beer mats. It’s an essential – but time-consuming – part of raising funds and awareness.

That’s where our volunteers step in. In 2018, colleagues from across Octopus spent over 50 hours helping CALM – from packaging fundraising material to supporting runners at the London Marathon.

“If there’s a gap, we can take the pressure off,” says Jenny Hagen, Investment Administrator at Octopus Investments and long-time CALM volunteer.

“If you can read and count, you can help put together fundraising packs,” says Sylvia Scott, OEI Support Manager with Octopus Investments. “That’s what made it so rewarding: just a few hours of my time makes a real difference.”

A vital mission

“CALM is a tremendously busy charity,” says Lisa Townsend, Head of Public Affairs at Octopus Group. “So even something as small as packaging up t-shirts allows CALM to focus what they do best: providing support to men in need.”

CALM’s focus on male mental health is a subject close to Lisa’s heart. Before joining Octopus, she spent ten years in Parliament helping to create mental health policy. In that time, she’s seen a huge shift in perceptions of mental health.

“Back then, nobody really talked about it,” she says. “Now, mental health is a much bigger part of the conversation. But the statistics around men under 45 remain stark – which is why CALM’s work is so important.”

Of course, it can be all too easy to forget about the importance of mental health in everyday life.

“Having positive mental health means you’re in an incredibly fortunate position,” says Sylvia. “And sometimes we can take it for granted. So when you see someone struggling, why wouldn’t you help?”

Hands-on help

Financial support can often be seen as the only benefit a corporate partner can bring to a charity. But we know we’ve got a lot more to give – and that support comes in a variety of different ways.

Between 2015 and 2017, we handed out Oyster card holders as part of CALM’s Mind The Chap campaign. We also supported #ManYourLocal – which included dropping off promotional beermats to pubs, clubs and cafes across the UK.

“Lots of charities get financial support,” says Sylvia. “But sometimes they need more help with administration or raising awareness – or even the occasional IT request. Wherever one of our partner charities needs help, we sit down with them to work out how we can contribute.”

Of course, volunteers gain from the partnership too – with many people getting the chance to use their expertise in a completely different environment.

“In my previous career, I spent a lot of time working on the policy side of things,” says Lisa. “With CALM, I relished the chance to get involved with the day-to-day.”

And for Jenny, volunteering comes with the added satisfaction of watching CALM grow from a small charity to one with national recognition. “I’ve volunteered with CALM for a few years now. I’ve handed out merchandise at train stations, spoken to people on the street, helped with office admin. It’s been wonderful to see the progress the charity has made in that time, and to know that I’ve helped.”

The road ahead

Octopus Giving charity partnerships last for three years. But while our official partnership ended with CALM in 2018, colleagues from across Octopus continue to volunteer their time and raise funds for the charity independently.

“We get a couple of Octopus volunteers every month,” says Jess. “We’re really pleased so many people in Octopus feel passionate about what we do. It’s amazing to see so many people get involved.”

Find out how you can get involved with CALM here.