DORSET Samaritans' bosses in Weymouth are using a boost in volunteer numbers to leave the office and launch a major annual races event.

The Great Samaritans Race Day aims to attract many hundreds of runners of all ages and abilities to boost awareness of the listening charity and to boost local funds.

For older runners there is a choice of three or seven mile races while events for children will include a fancy dress fun run of one lap round Weymouth College Sports Ground for up to 7 year-olds, two laps for 8-10 year-olds and three laps for 11-13 year-olds. There will be a £3 entry fee for each runner in the children's races (£1 extra if booked on the day) and early indications already show some really creative fancy dress. A turnout of around 100 is expected for the children's events alone.

Samaritans medals on neck ribbons will be presented to all children taking part as well as the cups to be awarded to the first boy and first girl in each of the children's events.

Groups and individuals are being encouraged to sign up now to the event, which is taking place from 10am on Sunday September 7th with runners leaving Weymouth College to follow a route around Lodmoor Nature Reserve, through Preston and back along the sea wall.

Local Samaritans' spokesman and event organiser, John Grantham, said: "We are very grateful to have the use of the excellent facilities at Weymouth College and their Community Sports Centre and we seek to create a real carnival type atmosphere on the day. Among the runners we are delighted to have a team of 8 teachers headed by Dale Rhodes and a team of Policemen in uniform led by Head of Weymouth and Portland Police Inspector Pete Meteau. Although the main races are not strictly fun runs' there will be plenty of fun and interest on the day. All members of a family can participate at either a competitive or a purely fun level, or come along and give support as a spectator."

All the money raised will be used to assist the growing strength of the Samaritans' Weymouth branch that covers most of Dorset. And should the day be wet we will be able to stage the children's events in their large sports hall.

New Director for the Weymouth branch, Sara, said in the last two years its volunteer numbers have doubled from 35 to around 70, and with a new group about to be trained, expected to rise to 80 within the next few months. She said: "With more volunteers we're no longer tied to the office answering calls and we can be out in the community letting people know we are there for them.

"We want to increase our service and reach out to more schools, youth clubs, hospitals, prisons and wherever the need is.

"We currently handle over 1,000 calls a month on 01305 771777 from people needing support, and answer a strongly growing number of emails sent to and importantly we are encouraging people to contact us before the real crisis occurs."

While the listening service caters for people's emotional health, the Samaritans race day promotes physical health and so far has inspired much community spirit.

Local organizations Magna Housing Association and South West Trains are providing financial support, and restaurants across Weymouth, Portland, Dorchester, Beaminster, Bridport and Blandford are supplying meal prizes in the Samaritans of Dorset's Hall of Fame' raffle.

The £1 raffle tickets enable the winners will to choose their favourite destination for a "three-course Luxury Dinner for Two" from any of the ten participating restaurants.

Sara added: "We are also hoping most entrants will be able to raise funds themselves for Samaritans by asking friends and organisations to sponsor them individually - these funds will make a real difference to our ability to increase our work in the community."

For runners aged 16 and over the Sam Seven' mile race is expected to attract around 200 athletes from Dorset and surrounding counties. For people aged 14 and over the 'Sam Scenic' three mile race is expected to attract good support, plus some who will walk and run.

There will be over 20 cups/awards to be won on the day, and a Samaritans' race medal on a neck-ribbon will be awarded to all children completing their event.

Other features include car parking facilities, changing rooms, masseur service before and/or after the race and tea or coffee and cake for £1. The race raffle offers ten lucky winning couples the chance to select their Luxury Dinner for Two' prize.

Anyone interested in buying raffle tickets - or indeed selling them for Samaritans alongside our local Friends of Samaritans' group - can contact the race secretary on 01305 813046 or use the reply form here.