A BLACK Country charity that offers a sympathetic ear to people in distress is finding it "increasingly difficult" to find the cash to stay afloat.

The Brierley Hill Samaritans opened in 1973 and since then volunteers have received thousands of phone calls from vulnerable people seeking confidential advice.

But as the demand for support has increased, so has the charity's annual running costs, which is now in the region of £20,000.

Graham Bristow, the charity's publicity officer, said: "When an organisation has been going about its work without interruption for so many years, it is tempting to think it will always be there. Unfortunately, things are not that simple.

"Keeping the Brierley Hill branch of Samaritans open costs money and finding that money has proved increasingly difficult in recent years. There are the obvious costs of running and maintaining the building, as well as a hefty telephone bill.

"This arises because they sometimes have to ring callers back and from the follow up calls they offer to those in distress. Like many of its costs, this one rises every year as people switch from landlines to mobiles."

He added: "People are often surprised to learn that Brierley Hill Samaritans do not receive funds from the national Samaritans organisation. Local branches are independent charities and have to cover their own costs. This means that if people want to support Samaritans at the local level, it is important that they donate directly to the branch."

Mr Bristow said it was important that the charity continued to support people in difficulty and urged borough residents to either donate on a one-off basis or sign up to the Give as you Live scheme.

Those that register at www.giveasyoulive.com will raise cash for the charity every time they shop online with a co-operating retailer.

The charity is also looking for volunteers to distribute publicity material, help with maintenance, fundraising and administration.

For more information, visit the base on Albion Street or call 01384 78111.