Hosted by our Founder and President Dame Esther Rantzen and our CEO Sophie Andrews,she was given a tour of the helpline which now receives more than one call every minute from lonely and isolated older people up and down the country.
During her visit she participated in an arts and culture Silver Circle – which brings together a number of people on a conference call – where callers were discussing their favourite childhood books, revealing that hers was Black Beauty. She added however that she could never finish it as it reduced her to tears: “I would read up until when Ginger died (one of the horse characters and a friend of Black Beauty) and cried so much I had to give up.” Other much-loved books they discussed included White Fang, Enid Blyton’s Famous Five and Swiss Family Robinson.
The Duchess of Cornwall also took a phone call from 89 year-old Betty Whitcher, who told the Duchess of Cornwall about her poetry. Asked how The Silver Line has helped her, Betty said: “they really make such a difference – I can call them at any time, and I have even rung them up in the middle of the night…when I can’t get to sleep. Just to talk to someone – it’s so reassuring.”
HRH said: “making a phone call is such a simple thing really – but the difference it can make to someone’s life is remarkable.”
The Duchess of Cornwall also talked to a group of volunteer Silver Line Friends – who make a regular weekly telephone call to an older person with whom they have been matched – and asked them about their experiences. HRH spoke to Wilma, who has been a telephone friend for two years to John, a former champion ball-room dancer and instructor. She related how, after the death of his wife he was so depressed that he had lost all confidence and had stopped teaching dancing. At first he wouldn’t even take her calls, but two years on: “he’s got his Mojo back, I can hear it in his voice. He has taken up Ceroc, a kind of French jive…and he’s thoroughly enjoying life.”
Commenting afterwards, Dame Esther Rantzen said: “It was really exciting for everyone associated with The Silver Line to be able to welcome the Duchess of Cornwall today: she seemed so completely involved in our vision of combatting loneliness and isolation among older people. She absolutely understands how difficult it is for a charity like ours to spread the message of awareness, and our desperate need for resources as demand for our service continues to rise. Christmas especially is one of our busiest times, as feelings of loneliness for older people on their own are compounded by seeing everyone enjoying family time and celebrating with friends; we often hear from callers who haven’t spoken to anyone during the whole festive season. We very much look forward to working with Her Royal Highness in the future – and her support in helping us to reach the millions of older people that might need us.
CEO Sophie Andrews added: “We are delighted to have Her Royal Highness as our Patron: for a young charity which is just four years old, it is a real tribute to all the work of our talented team to have been recognised in this way. Her visit to the Helpline today gave a real boost to staff and volunteers alike who work tirelessly around the clock, every single day and night of the year to support some of the most vulnerable members of our society. More generally, we are very grateful to her for helping us to spread awareness about our crucial work: a lot of our callers refer to us as ‘a lifeline’.”
The Duchess visited at a particularly busy time for the helpline with Christmas approaching. The Silver Line is the UK’s only free, confidential helpline for older people, always open when other services are closed. Last year we were unable to answer more than 5,000 calls from vulnerable and isolated older people due to high demand.