Samaritans was founded in 1953 by Chad Varah, a vicar in the Lincoln Diocese, whose pastoral work had convinced him that there was a need for this service. At the time there was an average of three suicides a day in London.
Varah began to understand the problems facing the suicidal when he was taking a funeral as an assistant curate in 1935, his first church service, at St Peter-in-Eastgate church in Lincoln, for a fourteen year old girl who died by suicide because she had begun to menstruate and feared that she had a sexually transmitted disease. He later said "Little girl, I didn't know you, but you have changed the rest of my life for good". He vowed at that time to encourage sex education and help people who were contemplating suicide and had nowhere to turn.
To that end, Chad Varah founded The Samaritans in 1953 in the crypt of his church, with the stated aim that it would be an organisation "to befriend the suicidal and despairing". The phone line, MAN 9000 (for MANsion House), received its first call on 2 November 1953.
He was director of the central London branch of Samaritans until 1974 and president from 1974 to 1986. He was also founder chairman of Befrienders International (Samaritans Worldwide) from 1974 to 1983 and then its president from 1983 to 1986.
The movement grew rapidly; within ten years there were 40 branches and there are now 203 branches across the UK and Ireland, deliberately organised without regard to national boundaries on the basis that a service which is not political or religious should not recognise sectarian or political divisions. Samaritans offers support through approximately 17,000 trained volunteers and is entirely dependent on voluntary support. The name was not originally chosen by Chad Varah: it was part of a headline to an article in the Daily Mirror newspaper on 7/12/1953 about Varah's work.
Samaritans' vision is that fewer people die by suicide.