One year on from the first UK-wide lockdown announcement and as pandemic restrictions begin to ease over the coming months, Samaritans is encouraging the rail industry to donate its time and support the charity as part of the ‘Million Hour Challenge’, needed now more than ever.

The volunteering initiative aims to bring rail industry staff together to help Samaritans be there for those struggling to cope, whilst also improving mental health and wellbeing within the sector.

Research from Samaritans reveals the profound impact of the pandemic on the nation’s mental health as over a fifth of calls for help to the charity have been related to coronavirus in the past year, although Samaritans’ volunteers indicate that the pandemic has affected all callers in some way. This includes the knock-on effects of the pandemic such as social isolation, relationship breakdown, loss of income and other financial worries.*

Despite seeing a 30% reduction in volunteer workforce at the start of the first lockdown due to shielding restrictions, Samaritans has maintained a 24/7 service throughout the pandemic as a result of the incredible efforts and dedication of Samaritans volunteers. The charity’s latest figures show that since social distancing restrictions began in March, Samaritans volunteers across the UK and Republic of Ireland have clocked up over 920,000 hours supporting those who are struggling to cope during the pandemic. So, after a challenging year for all, to help Samaritans continue to be there for everyone, the charity is encouraging the rail industry to take part in the ‘Million Hour Challenge’.

Rail staff can get involved in any way that suits them and is still within current pandemic restrictions, simply by signing up to the Challenge’s website and logging their chosen activity hours contributing to the ambitious target. This includes:


  • Organising or taking part in fundraising activities – such as Samarathon, a challenge to run, jog or walk a marathon within a month
  • Organising awareness events or workplace tea events including Brew Monday to support staff’s mental health and wellbeing
  • Sharing and raising awareness of Samaritans’ services on social media
  • Possible volunteering opportunities with local branches – including training to become a listening volunteer or admin and support roles


Rail staff can also contribute to the ‘Million Hour challenge’ by taking part in Samaritans online learning and training courses such as the ‘Wellbeing in the Workplace’ toolkit and ‘Managing Suicidal Contacts’ course, where they learn how to approach someone who appears vulnerable to get them to safety.

Research shows that volunteering and the power of giving back and helping others also has benefits to improving mental health and wellbeing. In a survey of Network Rail employees who have used their volunteer leave days to volunteer for a charity, over three quarters (77%) of respondents said the main reason they decided to volunteer was to benefit the community and a third (33%) said to improve their health and wellbeing.**

Julie Bentley, Samaritans’ CEO, said: “At Samaritans, listening to our helpline callers, we know that the pandemic has had a huge impact on people’s mental health and has magnified many worries they might have faced before, such as finances or loneliness. As we start to look beyond lockdown, the long-term impact is concerning with pressures likely to continue for some time.

“That’s why we’re so grateful for the rail industry’s support and commitment to Samaritans, to not only help the charity to be there for everyone who needs us, but also in recognising the need to look after the industry’s own wellbeing right now too. There are so many ways you can get involved to log hours for the Million Hour Challenge – whether it’s a regular virtual tea break and catch up with colleagues, organising a fundraiser or simply spreading the message on social media – it won’t only benefit our dedicated volunteers and callers, but be a real boost to you too.”

Andrew Haines, chief executive of Network Rail said: “The Million Hour Challenge is a great opportunity for the rail industry to make a real difference to those who may be struggling to cope. The past year has seen so many people pushed to their limits, that’s why we want to get out and help, so please get involved!”

Ian Prosser, HM Chief Inspector of Railways, ORR said: “I’ve seen and felt the impact of suicide on a personal level and understand the importance of the work the Samaritans does. We launched the Million Hour Challenge to support the industry’s long-standing partnership with the charity, whose care and support is vital. Over the last few years, this has benefitted the health and wellbeing of our staff by volunteering their time to undertake training, fundraising or listening and help Samaritans with increasing demand for their services.”

‘Million Hour Challenge’ launched in March 2019, building on Network Rail and the rail industry’s partnership with Samaritans to reduce the number of suicides on the railway and support those affected by them. The challenge, which is running for five years and has just reached its two-year mark, is open to the entire rail industry and has 30 rail partner organisations signed up to challenge, with opportunity for around 165,000 of their staff to support Samaritans’ efforts.


Find out more and sign up to begin logging hours at