.. it seemed such a simple thing to do

Deborah Cunningham is part of a growing UK-wide team of volunteer Silver Line Friends, who are delivering weekly befriending calls to lonely and isolated older people around the country. Deborah speaks regularly to Sue* in Scotland and here she describes how the relationship is bringing enjoyment to both their lives.

senior woman on phoneI have a new friend in my life. Like most friends we talk regularly, know quite a lot about each other and have shared a few laughs. But we have never met or chatted over a cup of tea and probably never will, yet both of us are quite happy with the situation. I look forward to our weekly telephone conversations and always (or usually) come away cheered. You see, Sue and I are Silver Line friends, part of Esther Rantzen’s fledgling initiative to combat loneliness and isolation amongst older people.

A few months ago we each put ourselves forward as interested in taking part, with some trepidation no doubt, but also with hope. I signed up after reading that weekly telephone calls were making a difference to the lives of older people who felt lonely, isolated or disconnected from those around them – it seemed such a simple thing to do. Sue got involved a few months after her husband died. She had done her best to get on with life – she met friends, volunteered in charity shops, started learning a language, went to an exercise class and is even contemplating getting to grips with computers! But none of this changes the fractured way she feels inside or the need she has to talk about that and the life she shared with her husband. So she contacted Silver Line Scotland, who suggested a telephone befriender.

We were paired up and now chat once a week for about half an hour about anything and everything; what has happened since we last spoke, funny little events, our families, what has been on the television and, yes, how fractured and irrelevant Sue often feels without her husband, how physically painful that loss is, how she does not want to burden her friends and family with her sadness, how I should cherish my husband and children, how I think she is entitled to feel the way she does, how a year alone is nothing after more than fifty years together, how she could sell snow to the eskimos given her sales success in the charity shops, how she makes me laugh, how I think she has lots to offer those around her.

The more I get to know Sue, the more brave and remarkable I think she is. She is entitled to her sadness but she also deserves some relief from it. I can’t take her grief away because I can’t bring Pete* back but I can hope to provide a little bit of a respite. I can also hope that in the future someone will be happy to do the same for me.

If you’re interested in being a Silver Line Friend like Deborah you can find out more on our website.

The Silver Line is a UK-wide helpline. Within Scotland, the Silver Line and Age Scotland work in partnership to deliver Silver Line Scotland. Whether you’re after information and advice, or looking for a chat, you can call 24-hours a day on 0800 4 70 80 90.

*names have been changed.


Ending Loneliness and Isolation: Laughs, tears and shortbread

Part of my job is to organise the Cross Party Group for Older People, Age and Ageing (CPG) at the Scottish Parliament, and this month saw a very special one held on a topic very close to most people’s hearts. Everybody knows someone who is living alone. But what about those of us who live alone and are ageing? As friends around us start to leave this world, living alone can become more and more difficult, both mentally and physically.

For this sensitive topic, the CPG was fortunate enough to secure two fantastic speakers; Isabella Goldie, Head of the Mental Health Foundation in Scotland and Esther Rantzen CBE, founder of The Silver Line.


Isobella Goldie, Sandra White MSP, Esther Rantzen and Fiona McLeod MSP

Isabella began the meeting by setting the context of the hard-hitting impact that loneliness and isolation can have on older people.She made sure the group was clear on the stark differences between isolation and loneliness. Isolation, she said, refers to a separation from social or family contact, lack of community engagement or connection to services. Loneliness is subjective– it’s about how people feel about perceived isolation.

So how can we start to tackle this feeling of loneliness?

A few years ago, Esther Rantzen CBE, a successful broadcaster and a founder of ChildLine in 1986, had come to the realisation that despite her continuing busy lifestyle and being surrounded by family and friends, she was not only growing older, but also lonelier.

Esther explained: “I have come to the conclusion that loneliness, which absolutely is not the same as isolation, is in my view associated with loss.

“It can be loss of a partner, it can be loss of a job, it can be loss of sense, sight or hearing, it can be loss of a driving license, and it can be loss of mobility.

“But what it does, it draws in the horizons of your life and your front door becomes a barrier that becomes more and more difficult to cross because what it erodes is self-esteem and confidence.”

So what did she do? Well, being a woman of action, and with her experience of ChildLine, Esther was inspired to found The Silver Line – a helpline for older people which was initially trialled in the north of England.

On 25th November 2013, the service was launched UK-wide. In Scotland, the helpline is delivered in partnership by The Silver Line and Age Scotland as Silver Line Scotland.

It is a 24-hour, freephone helpline answered by real people – not machines – who are there to offer information, friendship and advice to older people all day, every day. Those at the meeting won’t forget the number – because Esther sang it to them – but for everyone else it’s 0800 4 70 80 90. Esther described one gentleman who, after his first call, described the feeling of ‘belonging to the human race’ again. The impact that one call a week can have on someone’s life can be that huge.

The significant and positive contribution that older people play in society is often overlooked. Esther was keen to highlight this, saying: “They are our national treasure, they are our resource – not just a series of problems. Have a look at the number of volunteers of 65-plus who keep our society going. Please do everything you can to lift the self-esteem of the older population’’ she added.

The meeting ended with a clip from Bob, a chatty 92 year old chap who was feeling desperately lonely after being widowed. He now calls The Silver Line. The video of his experience was humbling to watch and brought a tear to every eye in the room. For nothing will ever stop the pangs of heartbreak Bob experiences on a daily basis and nothing can bring back his beloved late wife Cath- but that phone call- that one, half hour phone call to a Silver Line friend, helps Bob to feel loved and wanted again.

Thanks to everyone who came along and to Moira Bayne from Housing Options Scotland who later tweeted ‘Had a great day @ScotParl listening to Esther Rantzen talk about @agescotland and Silver Line. Laughs, tears and shortbread. Perfect day’


The Silver Line Scotland is a 24 hour service providing free information, advice and friendship to older people. The number is 0800 4 70 80 90

Next CPG meeting will be held on Wednesday 11th June 12.45pm Committee Room 2 contact me at hannah.lister@agescotland.org.uk for more details.

No question too big, no problem too small, no need to be alone

Jenny, Session Supervisor- Silver Line Scotland reports back from our Launch week:

Today was the official launch of Silver Line Scotland. The team had decorated the Helpline with silvery decorations and made Esther Rantzen a cake to commemorate the launch. We also dressed for the occasion in a variety of silver clothing, shoes and accessories.

Silver Line

We had a busy start to the morning with calls in the first few minutes of opening. The Silver Line is open 24 hours on 0800 4 70 80 90, but Silver Line (UK) manage the calls overnight from their centre in Blackpool, then Silver Line Scotland take the Scottish calls from 8am to 8pm on weekdays.

Esther came in to the Helpline at about 12.30 after meeting with press and photographers to speak about the service.  She chatted with the team about some of the types of calls that Silver Line had received through the pilot period and the types of calls the Scottish team have been getting this week.  We are all hoping that Silver Line becomes the first point of contact for older people in Scotland for any problem, question or just a listening ear which is summed up by our motto:

‘No question too big, no problem too small, no need to be alone’.

Age Scotland Helpline has been a trusted source of information for many years and calls have always been quite varied and unpredictable. We receive calls on subjects as diverse as care, housing, heating, benefits and everything else besides (‘How do I get my letter from the Queen when I turn 100?’, ‘I’m struggling to hear my phone ringing, what can I do?’)  but with the addition of Silver Line we have an extra dimension to our service.  Many of our calls this week have been from people wanting to chat, wanting to sign up to be a Silver Line volunteer, to have a Silver Line friend or just wanting to pass on their thoughts about the service.

Silver LineWe’ve had some great feedback on how excited people are that the friend service is available and how pleased they are that they can ring 24 hours to speak to someone.  We have still received our usual mix of calls about care, housing, benefits and older people’s rights, but we’ve also had people feeling lonely or isolated, or just wanting to get something off their chest.

It’s been a busy week for the Helpline and we’re looking forward to it carrying on as Silver Line becomes more well-known and grows from strength to strength.

Proudly presenting Silver Line Scotland

Silver Line Scotland in partnership with Age Scotland, launch a new 24 hour helpline offering information, advice and friendship to older people on 0800 4 70 80 90.  Esther Rantzen, founder and chair of The Silver Line, spoke to Age Scotland about this land-mark new service.

Esther with Age Scotland Chief Executive Brian Sloan.

Esther with Age Scotland Chief Executive Brian Sloan.

“We know from the experience of ChildLine that it is sometimes difficult to talk about serious problems like loneliness or abuse,” says Esther, who helped found that service in the 1980s.  “So with The Silver Line, we are saying to older people that you can ring us up about anything.”

For Esther it’s vitally important that the service is open 24 hours a day, every day of the year.   “We get very important calls in the early hours of the morning, on Sunday mornings, and on Christmas day.  People can be sleepless, and with Sunday and Christmas dedicated to family they can feel particularly lonely on these days.”  

Silver Line Scotland is not just a number people can call in a time of crisis. “We learned from our pilot of the service that some people really enjoy speaking to someone on a regular basis, and that a Silver Line friendship can transform their life,” says Esther.  “They say that being able to talk to someone who is genuinely interested in them makes them feel valued and gives them confidence.  So as a result of contacting The Silver Line, one woman went on to join a book club, and we also spurred a man to go out and buy a new guitar.”

The inspiration to found The Silver Line came from Esther’s personal experience.  “Living alone for the first time at age of 71 I realised that, even though I had quite a good life, coming home to a dark flat with no-one to make tea for is pretty lonely.”

Esther feels that there are barriers that make it difficult for people who are lonely to ask for help.  “Many older people are determined not to be a burden, and they will often say that they know there are people far worse off than they are,” she says.  “There is definitely a stigma attached to loneliness; admitting to it can feel a bit like admitting that you are unlikeable.”

In Scotland The Silver Line is working in partnership with Age Scotland to deliver Silver Line Scotland.  “I went up to meet Age Scotland Chief Executive Brian Sloan,” says Esther.  “The idea for a partnership came from him, and it was such a brilliant one as Scotland’s laws and systems are slightly different and Age Scotland’s telephone advisers are experts in this.” Esther is “hugely enthusiastic” about the partnership.  “I have the greatest respect for the work of Age Scotland’s dynamic team and am delighted to be working with it.” 

Call Silver Line Scotland on 0800 4 70 80 90