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Winter, loneliness and volunteer support: The Silver Line Helpline at 10

A woman wearing a headset, speaking to a caller

A decade of friendship, conversation and support

As we near Christmas, a time when feelings of loneliness and isolation can feel especially acute, Paul Farmer, Chief Executive of Age UK reflects upon the sterling work The Silver Line Helpline has done over the past 10 years.

By: Paul Farmer


As the nights lengthen and the temperature plummets, our work at Age UK becomes ever more important.

PaulFarmer500x500.jpgWe know the corrosive impact that loneliness and isolation can have on so many older people, on both physical health and mental health. We are still hearing that many older people have not set foot outside of their house since early 2020, before the pandemic.

And for many older people, this Christmas will be their first without their life partner, or the first time they haven't been well enough to travel to be with relatives, or the first that they don't have enough money to celebrate.

Difficult days

The blight of loneliness feels particularly acute at this time of year. We know, for instance, that almost 1 million older people often feel lonely. At a time when people are getting together, the impact of loneliness feels even greater, especially when you consider that 1 million older people had no one to spend Christmas with last year.

So, I want to give thanks to the many people across Age UK who continue to make it their mission to reduce loneliness.

Let's start with the inspirational Dame Esther Rantzen. Ten years ago this week, Esther set up The Silver Line Helpline to combat loneliness. We at Age UK joined forces with The Silver Line Helpline in 2019. And, having supported 3.7 million calls in a decade, our 24-hour telephone service is still thriving. Esther spotted a real need and that need has not diminished.

“I’m heartened to know that these conversations and the precious human contact we provide make such a life-changing difference,” Esther says of what's been accomplished so far.

Befriending and being there

Dame-Esther-Rantzen.jpgThe Silver Line Helpline forms part of our wide-ranging support services for people who feel lonely or isolated. At a national level, the Age UK Telephone Friendship Service supports almost 5,000 older people every week with a regular telephone call - a lifeline to many who desperately need contact.

And at a local level, many of our partners run face-to-face befriending services, with thousands of older people receiving visits from trained, compassionate people offering friendship and support.

At the heart of all these services are volunteers. These volunteers give their time, of course, but they also provide a listening ear, empathy, a comforting word, as well as a joke and some good cheer.

We couldn't do without our befriending volunteers, but we desperately need more and next year we'll be launching a major new campaign to recruit more.

In the meantime, please consider supporting our Christmas Appeal this year, to help us be there for older people on the hardest days, and every day, by providing friendship and support.

And thank you Dame Esther for bringing The Silver Line to so many older people.

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.

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Last updated: Nov 24 2023

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