In August 2011, Dame Esther Rantzen DBE (who founded the children’s helpline ChildLine in 1986), wrote an article about the loneliness she has experienced since being bereaved, and living alone. She was overwhelmed by the huge response from older people who shared her experience. In November 2011 she was invited to make a key-note speech at a conference at which she came up with the idea of creating a helpline in order to support vulnerable older people, signpost them to projects and services, break through the stigma of loneliness and isolation, and tackle the problems of abuse and neglect.
As a result, Paul Burstow, (then Minister of State for Care Services), hosted a round-table seminar on 1st February 2012, chaired by Esther Rantzen, at which many of the major voluntary organisations working with older people were represented, together with members of the statutory sector. The enthusiasm and support of all the attendees lead to an initial grant of £50,000 pledge as “seed money” by the Department of Health. With the appointment of inspirational Chief Executive Sophie Andrews, formally Chair of The Samaritans in September, she led a pilot launched in November 2012, funded by Comic Relief covering the North East, North West, Isle of Man and Jersey.
Following this successful pilot which was independently evaluated by the Centre For Social Justice, The Silver Line was awarded a £5 million grant from the Big Lottery Fund in September 2013 to support part of the first two years operation. This grant allowed the Silver Line to launch in time for Christmas – often the loneliest time of year for older people. In 2015 we were delighted to receive a further £5 million Big Lottery Fund grant which has enabled the continuation of service growth and the development of our long term sustainability plans in line with the incredible growing trajectory of demand.
The Silver Line Helpline provides three functions to support older people:
• a sign-posting service to link them into the many, varied services that exist around the country
• a befriending service to combat loneliness
• a means of empowering those who may be suffering abuse and neglect, if appropriate to transfer them to specialist services to protect them from harm
Since our national launch, The Silver Line Helpline has received over one million calls. Over two-thirds of these calls – around 700,000 – were made overnight or at weekends when no other helpline is available for older people who may be lonely, isolated or confused. We now receive around 10,000 calls every week from lonely and isolated older people with 53% of callers saying they have literally no-one else to speak to.
Over 3,000 volunteer Silver Line Friends are making regular weekly friendship calls to older people. We have launched Silver Circles, group calls for people with shared interests, and have started Silver Letters for people who prefer the written word or are hearing impaired.
We rely entirely on voluntary donations to cover the cost of calls to the helpline, The Silver Line’s friendship services, and all other costs.
Thank God I picked up your leaflet and followed it up – everyone who takes my call is kind and I always feel 100% better when I get off the phone.