Sophie Andrews was suicidal - but 25 years on she reveals how she turned her life around to receive an OBE
When Sophie Andrews was in such despair that she was regularly phoning the Samaritans, she would never have believed that 25 years later she would be receiving an OBE.
In those dark days, Sophie simply wondered how she would get through the day, never mind giving herself the luxury of planning any kind of future.
But those calls to the Samaritans set her on course to become a counsellor herself, and eventually to take charge of a helpline which today employs around 200 people in Blackpool.
And on Friday, Sophie, 48, went to Buckingham Palace to pick up her OBE in recognition for her work with the elderly.
She is chief executive of Silver Line, the charity founded by TV presenter Esther Rantzen, to provide support for elderly people via a phone line.
The concept is similar to Childline, but with the focus on vulnerable people at the other end of the age spectrum.
Since it was started as a pilot scheme in 2012 and then formally launched in 2013, it has taken 1.6m calls.
Sophie said: “I had worked for the NSPCC and Childline and as a result of my friendship with Esther Rantzen, she consulted me and wondered if I would come on board to help her set up Silver Line.
“I took the leap to take up the job and we set up a pilot scheme in November 2012.
“From everything I had learnt from calling the Samaritans as a vulnerable person myself, I understood it’s not always about the professional response to your situation.
“It’s about having someone to listen to you.
“You may not want to be a burden to your family or your doctor, but you do need someone to speak to.
“Our helpline is staffed by 18-year-olds right up to people who are retired from other jobs, so it’s representative of normal life.
“They value older people, and a lot of it is about talking about their own lives as well which helps someone if they are feeling isolated.”
As well as paid staff, the charity also has volunteering opportunities for people.
Sophie is originally from London and is now based back in the capital, but moved to Blackpool when she was 22 to escape her troubled past.
From the age of 12 she had been abused by her father, a brutal experience which she documented in her book ‘Scarred’, published in 2008.
Sophie had been adopted by an apparently respectable couple but when her parents split up, she remained alone with her father and her life spiralled into suicidal misery which included self harm.
She was badly abused, leaving her with physical and emotional injuries.
At 16, her growing desire to harm herself went too far and she was admitted to a psychiatric unit where she spent the next 22 months.
But this was the start of the slow process of rebuilding her life.
She regularly called the Samaritans and eventually became a volunteer herself at the charity’s Blackpool base in Edward Street.
She recalls: “I made many friends there and being a volunteer helped my confidence to improve.
“When I became strong enough, I wanted to pay back the Samaritans for the way they had helped me.
“I had also missed a lot of my education and when I moved to Blackpool I began studying, and catching up with it.
“So those early days in Blackpool were about me building up my confidence and beginning to believe in myself.”
Sophie eventually was asked to be branch director in Blackpool around 2001, and then regional director for the North West before becoming the national chairman between 2008 and 2011, all unpaid posts.
Her paid work involved jobs with Cable and Wireless and M&S, and in her professional life she was learning about call centres.
Those skills helped lead her to her role heading up Silver Line.
Sophie said: “When I was calling the Samaritans, I didn’t think I was going to be where I am today.
“Forget a career, getting through each day was the biggest challenge. When you are that low, you are just thinking about the next 24 hours.
“There isn’t one moment when you wake up and think everything is going to be alright.
“It has been a journey, and I’m delighted to be receiving an OBE for services to the elderly.
“It recognises what we have achieved over the last few years with Silver Line and that’s something I’m very proud of.
“You can’t imagine Childline not being here anymore, and my aspiration is for Silver Line to become a household name as well.”
lPeople can contact Silver Line by calling freephone number 0800 470 8090. For information about volunteering and donations go to www.thesilverline.org.uk