Support helplines are in demand perhaps now more than ever. This webinar walks us through a study into experiences and outcomes for Samaritans Helpline callers, looking at the challenges of conducting innovative research within a complex environment (involving a volunteer-led client and academic Advisory Group) – and with the added research considerations of the Covid-19 pandemic.


  • Dr Stephanie Aston, Senior Research and Evaluation Manager, Samaritans
  • Kate Owen, Research Director, M·E·L Research

What you’ll learn:

  • The main methodological lessons learned, to help you in your own research
  • How to operate within a volunteer-led organisation when conducting an innovative research project
  • Reflections on the stakeholders and paradigms involved – particularly useful for those whose research may be increasingly based on collaborations and partnerships and carried out in complex stakeholder landscapes

Samaritans is a suicide prevention charity specialising in providing emotional support through active listening for those finding it difficult to cope. Improving the collection and application of evidence, so that the organisation is better able to demonstrate the benefits of the service, is a key priority set within the Samaritans’ strategy for 2021.

After completing a feasibility study in 2018, Samaritans commissioned M·E·L Research to measure and explore outcomes and experiences for Samaritans Helpline callers. Samaritans volunteers were trained by M·E·L Research to recruit Helpline callers and collect primary outcomes data on distress and suicidality.

Two further data sets were collected: a survey one week later to gather more data on distress and suicidality and caller experiences; and in-depth telephone interviews with a sample of survey respondents to explore the Helpline’s impact in more detail.

The research team also gathered feedback from Samaritans volunteers who took part in the research. The study received ethical approval and had an Advisory Group of experts in the field.

Join our webinar to learn in more detail about the study’s three key elements:

  • Reflections on the research setting: carrying out innovative research within a complex environment (involving a volunteer-led client, academic Advisory Group and private sector research supplier) – including specific research considerations during the Covid-19 pandemic.
  • Methodological lessons: what worked well; what could be done differently; the benefits and limitations of Samaritans volunteers’ involvement in the research; transferable learning for other interventions and research.
  • Research impact: how the research has informed the ongoing development of Samaritans Helpline; what is the wider learning around caller outcomes and suicide prevention?
Dr Stephanie Aston is Senior Research and Evaluation Manager at Samaritans, where she has worked since 2007. Stephanie is responsible for commissioning and conducting research and evaluation across a wide range of themes, including crisis interventions, support services and campaigns. Collaborating with academia, the third sector and external agencies, Stephanie is committed to ensuring research evidence is accessible and applicable to practice. Prior to working at Samaritans, her career involved research in academia and the third sector.

Kate Owen is a Research Director at M·E·L Research has over 20 years’ experience in insight, brand, communications and strategy. She brings a unique breadth of experience spanning the commercial and public sector, specialising in audience insights motivations, behaviour change, qual and quant research methods, campaign development and evaluation. Kate has lots of experience working with charities including NSPCC, Samaritans, Drinkaware, Money Advice Service both as an external researcher, but also working within as research manager. This gives Kate a unique insight into the daily challenges facing Third Sector organisations, both medium size and small. Skilled in both quantitative and qualitative methods, Kate is passionate about ensuring research has impact throughout organisations, working with clients to bring about organisational change by ensuring the voice of the ‘customer’ is at the heart of decision making.

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