The Silver Line Helpline will celebrate its 10th anniversary on Saturday 25 November. In recognition of this special milestone, Dame Esther Rantzen, members of staff, volunteers and the older people who use the service reflect on the life-changing difference it continues to make.
Identifying a need
The Silver Line Helpline was founded by Dame Esther Rantzen in 2012, beginning as a regional project before being launched nationally in November 2013 and joining forces with Age UK in 2019. Offering friendly conversation and support, the free helpline is available 24 hours a day, every day of the year for older people across the UK who need someone to talk to. It was a difficult time in Dame Esther’s own life that prompted the launch of the service.
“Following the death of her husband, Dame Esther Rantzen publicly shared her feelings of isolation and loneliness,” explains Lauren Phillips-Brighouse, National Manager of The Silver Line Helpline. “After that, she received so many letters from members of the public who had experienced similar situations in later life, so she decided to found The Silver Line.
“Nearly a million older people say they often feel isolated and lonely, and issues like bereavement and ill health can make it difficult for people to stay connected.”
The impact of a phone call
Helping to restore a sense of connection with others is exactly what The Silver Line Helpline does best – and not just for those using the service, but for its volunteers too. Victoria was inspired to sign up to be a volunteer after losing her grandad. “I was really close to him – I used to speak to him on the phone and we’d have lovely, long chats about the war,” says Victoria. “When he died, I felt like something was missing during that time of the week. I thought there must be an elderly person somewhere who would like a call.
“I still remember my first call – the lady I spoke to was really interesting and was into amateur dramatics. She dated Norman Wisdom and had lots of exciting stories to share about her experiences! She was absolutely lovely. I really don’t feel like a volunteer, as I get more back than I put in. It’s very enriching and life-affirming.”
But while some callers might be eager to share memories and stories, for others it’s enough to know that someone is there. “No two days are the same, and the calls can be varied – from a simple friendship call to somebody who just wants to hear another human voice,” explains Ian, a helpline officer based in Blackpool.
It's a window opening on the world... it cheers me up and makes me forget about my own problems for that amount of time.
Being reassured that someone’s available to listen can have a huge impact on older people who are feeling alone. “It has made a big difference,” says Emily. “I’ve known about The Silver Line since it first started, and it’s an excellent service. When I was worried about something in the middle of the night I phoned The Silver Line. You can say things you’d not always say to a friend or an acquaintance.”
Marion has felt the benefit of the phone calls too. “It’s made an enormous difference because I’m on my own,” Marion tells us. “I’ve had breast cancer in the past and now I’ve got other health issues. I ring in not to talk about illness but to talk about the advisors’ lives, things that they do. It’s a window opening on the world, hearing what other people are doing. It cheers me up and makes me forget about my own problems for that amount of time.”
An ongoing lifeline
Last year, The Silver Line Helpline received more than 180,000 calls from people like Emily and Marion – and over the last 10 years, we’ve helped many more older people to feel less alone.
“Since we founded the helpline in 2013, older people across the country have been able to pick up the phone to ask for help, share a worry, or simply enjoy a friendly chat,” says Dame Esther Rantzen. “One caller simply described it as a ‘lifeline’. Another simply said that after ringing our helpline, ‘when I put down the phone, I feel like I’ve joined the human race’. I’m heartened to know that these conversations and the precious human contact we provide make such a life-changing difference.
“I couldn’t be prouder of what we’ve achieved together. Thank you so much for helping us on this crucial journey.”
Will you be there to listen?
If you can spare four hours a week, please help us support older people who need to talk by signing up to be a volunteer for The Silver Line Helpline.