Catherine Johnstone, chief executive of Samaritans for more than six years, will leave the suicide-prevention charity later this year when a successor has been appointed, it was announced today.
The decision comes after discussions between Johnstone and the board about taking forward the charity’s new six-year strategy, due to start in April.
Johnstone told Third Sector she would have been prepared to stay for two more years, but agreed with the board that it would be better to appoint someone else to see the strategy through.
She said her main focus was providing continuity of leadership for Samaritans and she would be working with the trustees to ensure a smooth transition to a new chief executive.
"I love the charity and I’m sad to be leaving," she said. "I’m also conscious that leaders in our sector sometimes get criticised for staying too long. I’m prepared to leave before I get another job, but I want to stay in the sector, working on the front line."
In Johnstone’s time at Samaritans, annual income has risen from £8m to £12m and she has overseen a strategy of making the charity the leading organisation on suicide prevention, reorganising the charity and its use of volunteers, and supporting society by initiatives such as talks in schools and suicide-prevention measures on the railways.
The new strategy will concentrate on making Samaritans services more accessible, broadening its communications – including by digital channels – continuing its preventive work in places such as car parks and waterways, and improving its research and knowledge base.
Jenni McCartney, chair of Samaritans, said in a statement that Johnstone had helped to lead the implementation of its successful six-year strategy between 2009 and this year, and had helped the board shape the new strategy for 2015 to 2021.
"It is testament to Catherine's commitment to Samaritans that this change will be managed in a way that will ensure stability for the organisation and the best possible transition to a new chief executive," McCartney said.
"The board of trustees has now begun the process of recruitment of the next chief executive to lead the organisation forward and build on the fantastic legacy Catherine has established during her tenure."
Last November Samaritans suspended an app called Samaritans Radar, designed to alert users of Twitter to signs that people they followed might be depressed and in need of support. A number of people had complained that it breached data-protection regulations. A petition against the app attracted more than 1,200 signatures.