This man is spending two years walking to all 201 Samaritans branches in the UK and Ireland

David on his listening walk (Picture: David Matthews)

In April this year, David Matthews set off on an incredible challenge.

The 58-year-old is walking to each of 201 Samaritans branches in the UK and Ireland and doing a shift at most of them.

Originally from Doncaster, David joined the organisation as a volunteer 12 years ago and says he always wanted to do something to fundraise for them.

He started out planning to walk around the branches in Doncaster but soon found he wanted to expand it.

At the time, he had moved to Scotland and was renting out a holiday cottage but when an opportunity arose to have someone temporarily take care of his business, he realised he had no excuse not to commit to his adventure, which he called The Listening Walk.

He tells ‘It was time to stop thinking about it and just get on with it.

‘I had this chance conversation with someone who lived locally with their parents but they wanted to move out and get a bit more independence so I suggested taking care of my business for a few years and they agreed.

‘So that was my last excuse. Last September I started planning the walk properly and I set off in April.’

David in Blackpool (Picture: David Matthews)

On 14 April, David set off from Doncaster, aiming to visit every branch and do a volunteer shift at each one if possible. So far he has done around 65 out of 75 shifts.

He also wanted to recruit 1,000 new volunteers and raise £100,000 along the way.

Now David is 2,500 miles into the walk and is aiming to finish in early 2021.

Most of the time, David has been walking on his own and he says that one of the challenges is the isolation – but he has made some incredible new friends along the way.

David’s tent (Picture: David Matthews)

He says: ‘At the minute, there’s a bit more civilisation but when you are walking through the remote Scottish Highlands, you go days and days without seeing anyone.

‘But the people I have met along the way have been incredible.

‘There’s been some amazing small gestures – like I got chatting to three guys at a bus stop and they were homeless.

‘I had a t-shirt on explaining what I am doing and they were just so enthusiastic.

David at the Samaritans branch in Cheltenham (Picture: David Matthews)

‘As I was leaving, one of them asked if they could donate. One of the guys gave me 50p and I tried to give it back because I felt he needed it but he really insisted. He said it was great what I was doing and the Samaritans had helped him in the past.

‘I took it and walked off with this little lump in my throat.’

For David, raising awareness of the charity and the work they do has been just as important for him as the fundraising.

He explains: ‘I was in Scotland looking for this access point and I couldn’t find it. I was getting frustrated and I thought I was going to have to climb over this fence.

David in Scotland (Picture: David Matthews)

‘I walked back down the road and then spotted it. It took me about 40 minutes until I got to where I wanted to be.

‘When I eventually got onto the path and a dog started barking and there was a woman there.

‘We walked together for a bit and I told her about the walk and she opened up and told me about some troubles in her life.

David in Liverpool (Picture: David Matthews)

‘Eventually, after about two miles, we were going different ways and she said “I was meant to meet you today because I just needed to talk”.

‘I told her that I had been lost for 40 minutes and if I had found that footpath straight away, I would never have run into her.

‘It’s just those special human stories like that. I gave her the card with the Samaritans number and off she went.’

Even little gestures have been helping to spur David on and getting him to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

David in the Cotswolds (Picture: David Matthews)

‘I always wear my Samaritans t-shirt and I have a flag on my bag and just hearing a car toot the horn and cheer just keeps me going for another hour. The support is amazing.’

Throughout his journey, David has camped everywhere, carrying all his belongings on his back.

He has secured a motorhome for a few months this winter but plans to sleep outside for most of the two years.

Today, on Christmas Day, David is taking a few days off walking – but the Samaritans are still on his mind as he will do a shift at his home Doncaster branch.

And after the holidays, he will head off again to tick off more branches on his list.

Despite the challenges, David says he has loved doing the walk so far, with only one major downside.

He laughs: ‘The worst bit is just getting my tent back in the bag every day, especially when it is soaking wet and the water is running down your arm. It’s impossible.’

You can follow the rest of David’s walk on his Facebook, Instagram and website.

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