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Festive period is the busiest time for Blackpool charity

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  • Helpline for elderly to receive thousands of calls this New Year
  • Last year 5,000 calls went unanswered as Silver Line charity bids for new funding
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Loneliness charity ready to respond to people in need of a friendly voice over the festive period.

The New Year is one of the loneliest times and Blackpool-based charity The Silver Line is expecting to be over-run with calls.

Ian Williamson-Owen, Wilma Cunliffe and Jean Carter, volunteers at The Silver Line in Blackpool

Ian Williamson-Owen, Wilma Cunliffe and Jean Carter, volunteers at The Silver Line in Blackpool

The charity which provides a friendly voice on the end of the phone for lonely over 55s said that last festive period they were unable to take 5,000 calls due to demand outstripping resources.

Despite that the team of more than 150 employees at Squires Gate and the thousands of volunteers around the UK managed to provide companionship for pensioners across the country, with more than 10,000 calls a week, mostly at night and week ends. 

Most of the callers spoke to no-one else over the festive period, the time when family is foremost in the minds of most of us.

The charity got going with funding from the Big Lottery four years ago but due to increasing demand – it has taken more than 1.6 million calls – is now seeking support elsewhere to keep its work going, literally a lifeline for many desperately lonely elderly people.

More than half of our callers speak to no-one else through the week and 80 per cent of the callers every month are new, calling us for the first time.

Charity founder Esther Rantzen, famous as the presenter of the popular TV show That’s Life, said that new funding was needed urgently to cover the £14,000 a day cost of running its services.

Speaking as the charity got a VIP visit from its patron The Duchess of Cornwall, she said: “At the moment we rely on major donors such as the Big Lottery but that will have to change.

“More than half of our callers speak to no-one else through the week and 80 per cent of the callers every month are new, calling us for the first time.

“When we launched the helpline four years ago, we chose to do so at the end of November – just ahead of the Christmas period – as we knew that this is a particularly challenging time of year for vulnerable and isolated older people. January too is a difficult time when many people see a whole lonely year stretching ahead of them”

The Duchess of Cornwall visits the offices of The Silver Line where Esther Rantzen is president and founder.

The Duchess of Cornwall visits the offices of The Silver Line where Esther Rantzen is president and founder.

The charity as well as its expert helpline staff, has a team of befriender volunteers who make regular calls to elderly people they have been matched with.

It also runs telephone conference calls to get groups of older people with similar interests together for regular chats.

In addition, the helpline staff will signpost callers to other organisations and activities in their area that may be of interest or benefit to them, such as a lunch club where they can meet other people, or details of local authority services available.

Its volunteer-run Silver Connects service offers hands on, practical support for callers needing help with more complex problems such as access to transport in rural areas, or a challenging housing situation.

The Duchess of Cornwall visits the offices of The Silver Line where Esther Rantzen is president and founder.  She is pictured with staff member Sean Tyler.

The Duchess of Cornwall visits the offices of The Silver Line where Esther Rantzen is president and founder. She is pictured with staff member Sean Tyler.

Sean Tyler, 27, from Blackpool is one of the staff manning the phones at the Squires Gate office.

He said: “I have been here for four years now . I wanted to do something worthwhile and The Silver Line offers a lot of job satisfaction.
“Helping people and providing a service to people who really need it is very rewarding.” Ian Williamson-Owen co-ordinates the team of volunteers in the region, many of whom are elderly themselves.

He said: “We have 251 in the North West who are doing an amazing job and we are so grateful to them for their support.

“I like to speak to the Silver Liners regularly to see if we are doing a decent job for them and they are happy with our service. I get to see people grow as volunteers, they might start off thinking they don’t really have much to offer but they get to understand.

“It is such a simple thing to do it makes such a big difference to the lives of people who are lonely or isolated.

“Many of the Silver Liners themselves become volunteers. Volunteering is such a rewarding thing to do and the volunteers get company too.”

Jean Carter of Thornton has been volunteering for two and a half years.

She said: “I have two telephone friends and I also do our Connects calls trying to help people out if they have a problem. For example with finding gardeners, I will do some internet research and find a suitable person to help.

“I love it, I look forward on a Sunday night to doing the calls to my friends. We have a good chat and a laugh.”

Wilma Cunliffe from Blackpool also enjoys her volunteering and has built up a close relationship with the four older people on the other end of the line.

She said: “I have been volunteering for four years. I look forward to Tuesday nights and I worry about them if anything has gone wrong. It is a wonderful thing and I think many more people would get a lot out of becoming a Silver Line volunteer.”

But the charity’s success with its confidential, free helpline has brought a problem.

Chief Executive Sophie Andrews said: “This October was our busiest month since the helpline was launched four years ago – we received just over forty five thousand calls – while in November we had three thousand more callers than for the same month last year; that’s a year-on-year rise of around ten per cent.

“And as we approach the peak ‘festive fortnight’ – Christmas Eve through to New Year’s Day – the rate of calls is accelerating: so far in the first two weeks of December, we’ve taken over twenty five and a half thousand calls; that’s already ten thousand more than for the peak ‘festive fortnight’ last yea.

“However, this ever-growing demand for our service also means that our 
running costs are rising steeply.

“To that end, we are in a race against time to raise the vital funds we rely on - around £14,000 per day just to keep going, and entirely via public donations - which is a huge challenge and getting harder all the time. Please help us be there around the clock, and especially at this time of year, for everyone that needs us.”