Christian volunteers are struggling to save lives at one of the most notorious suicide spots in England -- towering 500 foot chalk cliffs locally known as Beachy Head.
Their efforts were lauded this week by Queen Elizabeth II – however, what the group needs is funding.
“Chaplains credited for saving lives at Beachy Head, but who face being disbanded because of a cash crisis, have been honored by the Queen,” reports the Eastbourne Herald newspaper.
The Beachy Head Chaplaincy Team was awarded the prestigious Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service -- created over a decade ago by Her Majesty to mark her Golden Jubilee in 2002 and to recognize the outstanding contributions made to local communities by groups of volunteers.
Unfortunately the award doesn’t come with any cash and the chaplaincy needs $20,000 by the end of June – and another $60,000 in the next three months.
Two hours away from the famed chalky cliffs of Dover, Beachy Head is on the southern British coast facing France. Volunteers patrol the towering cliffs 24 hours a day, seven days a week “to help rescue those who come to commit suicide on the picturesque but deadly chalk headland in East Sussex featuring a stomach-lurching 500 foot drop,” reports Carey Lodge of Christian Today. “An average of 30 people commit suicide on the headland each year, though this number would be far higher without the efforts of the chaplaincy team; in April alone they were involved in 79 incidents, and recued 38 despondent or suicidal individuals.
“There is a man on the edge of the cliff who looks distressed. He’s pacing up and down the line, just a few steps from the drop,” writes Amanda Hopkins for The Way.
“We need to get to him fast and see if he’s okay,” says chaplaincy director Mark Pybus.
“The chaplains don’t mince words,” writes Hopkins. All are Christians. Non-believers are not accepted into the volunteer corps. “They say they are looking for the lost and the broken-hearted and trying to prevent suicide. The director watches through binoculars as his colleague rushes to the man on the next headland, then suddenly slows. This is to make his breathing regular and his voice normal.
“We don’t want the other person to become any more agitated than they are,” explains Pybus.
“This should be a great time for the team, which was given the Queen’s Award Monday,” writes Hopkins. “The chaplains had face-to-face encounters last year with 368 people who were considered to be at risk. Some had indeed come to take their own lives, but chose not to do so after meeting a chaplain who listened to their troubles and put them in touch with others who could help.
“But instead of celebrating the royal accolade this weekend, the chaplains are facing a crisis of their own. The money has run out.
“The four professional chaplains employed to work with a team of 14 trained volunteers have just been told they are” going to have to be let go, writes Hopkins. “If no more cash comes in by the end of the month, their last wages will be paid by selling off the team’s Land Rover patrol cars, sophisticated thermal imaging cameras and other kit. That will mean the end.”
“If you take the equipment away, then the volunteers will have nothing to work with. We will have to finish,” says Pybus. The chaplains have always refused all interviews and publicity, until now. “I do believe that more lives will be saved if we talk about this and get the financial help we need to continue.”
“He shouts a warning to a young lad who has got too close to the edge,” writes Hopkins. “There are faded warning signs and a negligible fence made from a single wire, but only at the highest point.”
“We can’t stop people being stupid but we can make them aware of the risk they are taking,” Pybus tells her. “The drop is 500 feet and the edge is not stable.”
“The lad realizes his mistake, turns pale with fright and hastens inland,” writes Hopkins. “So the chaplain takes up his binoculars again to watch as his colleague – who wants to be known only as ‘T,’ for the sake of his privacy – reaches the agitated man on the next headland.
“We usually ask an innocuous question about the weather or the view,” Pybus tells her. “The response will tell us a lot about the condition of that person.”
“For a while,” writes Hopkins, “the two figures are silhouetted against a shimmering sea. These initial conversations can go on for hours, even in extreme weather. Some people refuse to respond at all. But if they are eventually willing to engage in conversation, the chances are that they will also come away and accept help.”
“I’m told by people who know better than me that feeling suicidal is not a permanent state of mind,” says Pybus. “Therefore, we will do what we can to help people to not take their lives at that point of crisis, which is not going to last forever.”
Publication date: June 13, 2014