This is Beachy Head in Sussex- it gets its name from the French Beau-chef – beautiful headland. It is a lovely place – white cliffs, and an amazing array of wildflowers growing on the clifftop. Somewhere I have a photo of my Dad and his brother, standing on the shingle near the lighthouse, taken in the 1930s.
But the cliffs here are over 500 feet high, the highest in mainland Britain – and this is the country’s most popular suicide location. For 10 years, the Beachy Head Chaplaincy Team have worked here, talking to people, rescuing and helping them – and they have saved over 2500 lives.
The charity was started by a Pastor, who had a vision one night of people patrolling the cliffs, seeking and helping two people contemplating ending their lives. He could not rest until he had acted on this, and set up the group in reality. BHCT works with HM Coastguard and the local Police, they are involved in Search and Rescue, and counselling work – and frequently bring people ‘back from the edge’ [literally] and help them to rebuild their lives and find a reason to go on. The teams are on call 24/7, 365 days a year, patrolling 6 miles of clifftop for a minimum of 100 hours each week.
This year, BHCT received the QAVS for the phenomenal work they do, patrolling the cliffs, covering 1900 acres of ground, day and night. There have been over 270 rescues each year since 2009. You would have thought this would be a great time of celebration – many lives saved, and a prestigious award. But sadly that is not the case.
Much of their funding has dried up – although the majority of Chaplains are volunteers, there are a few paid members of staff. They have a Director [who also does 24 hours of patrol cover each month] 2 full-time paid frontline staff, 2 part-time paid frontline staff, a paid administrator – and 14 unpaid volunteers.
But today will be the last time for some of the paid staff, and redundancy notices have been sent out. The charity has always been cautious about advertising themselves, for fear that this will publicise the site as a place to end your life. However the Trustees have reconsidered their position – as BH is now known internationally as a suicide hotspot – and the Trust is in urgent need of funds if it is to continue to provide this vital work.
I have, in the past, talked with people who are contemplating suicide – but usually in a warm house, or perhaps on a park bench – and removed from the location of the act. To be at the top of the vertiginous cliffs, in high winds, maybe even at twilight, or in the dark – and sit talking with truly desperate people who are complete strangers – that demands real courage and special gifts. I have the greatest admiration for these folk, and their unconditional love.
They need £75K urgently if they are to go on saving lives. Please take a minute to read this article in the Daily Telegraph and then consider if you could spare a fiver [donation details here] If all the people who read this blog during June sent just five pounds each, that would make a huge dent in their deficit. One final piece from the BHCT website.
Ultimately everything we do cannot really be told just by statistics. On New Year’s eve we received an email from someone we rescued earlier in the year. She said “I didn’t think I would be around to see 2013 and am now looking forward to the challenges and fun of the year. So thank you for giving me back my life.”