The Silver Line

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The Silver Line
The Silver Line logo.png
FounderDame Esther Rantzen
Area served
United Kingdom
ServicesTelephone helpline for older people

The Silver Line is the only free confidential telephone helpline offering information, friendship and advice to older people in the United Kingdom[1] that's available 24 hours a day.


The helpline was established by Dame Esther Rantzen, who founded the children's helpline ChildLine in 1986.[2] She wrote about her loneliness following the death of her husband Desmond Wilcox in 2000, and described loneliness among the elderly as "a creeping enemy" which "erodes confidence".[3]

Dame Esther was invited to a conference addressing the isolation of elderly people held by the Campaign to End Loneliness and the Centre for Social Justice. This led to a meeting at the invitation of Paul Burstow MP, then a Minister in the Department of Health, to discuss the creation of a helpline.[4]

Dame Esther and Burstow are listed among the trustees of The Silver Line helpline.[5] Others include the CEO of Action on Elder Abuse, the CEO of Anchor Trust, Lady Susan Chinn, and Professor Patrick Geoghegan. The CEO of The Silver Line is Sophie Andrews. The helpline is a charity registered in the UK (Registered Charity no 1147330 in England and Wales, registered in Scotland as charity number SCO44467. Company No 8000807)


The helpline aims to provide the following services:[6]

  • Offer information, friendship and advice
  • Link callers to local groups and services
  • Offer regular befriending calls
  • Protect and support those who are suffering abuse and neglect

Callers may be directed to organisations such as Contact the Elderly, Samaritans, WRVS or the Townswomen's Guild.[4]

Regional pilot[edit]

A 12-month pilot of the helpline service covering the North of England, the Isle of Man and Jersey was launched in November 2012.[7]

Initially the pilot was launched in Greater Manchester and the Isle of Man. However, funding from Comic Relief allowed an extension of the pilot to cover North East England and Jersey in 2013. 8,000 calls were answered during the pilot period, with the majority of callers aged between 60 and 80.[8]

The pilot was greeted positively by most of the major charities and other organisations working in the field of elderly care. However, the head of Age Concern in Jersey initially said she liked the concept, but a new UK-based charity helpline would be confusing and unnecessary for the island.[9] In fact the Jersey experience proved valuable not only in testing out ways of reaching the hardest-to-reach older people, but also by enabling them to call the helpline, in some calls revealing situations involving loneliness and abuse. Evaluated independently by the Centre for Social Justice, during the pilot period the helpline was found to have been transformational. One caller told the evaluation, "When I get off the phone I feel like I belong to the human race". Another said she no longer felt as if she had been "shuffled under the carpet." It was therefore launched nationally on November 25, 2013.

National launch[edit]

The Silver Line launched nationally on 25 November 2013.[3] Funding of £5 million was granted by the Big Lottery Fund, as part of their Dignity programme to provide services to older people who are isolated and lonely across the UK.[8] This was intended to cover approximately half the costs of the first two years. The launch of the brand new service was widely covered in the media, especially on radio and television, throughout the day, culminating in a special feature on BBC's The One Show. This was in order to publicize the free, confidential telephone number 0800 4 70 80 90 which is now open 24/7 every day and night, including Christmas and the New Year.

To mark the launch, The Silver Line commissioned ComRes to conduct a survey into loneliness. Their findings can be extrapolated to a figure of 2.5 million older people (15%) feeling lonely often or all the time. 9 out of 10 said that the most effective remedy for loneliness is a chat on the telephone. However, since 84% said it is very difficult to admit to loneliness, even to members of their family because they do not wish to become a "burden", The Silver Line offers a general service of information, friendship and advice. The biggest single problem callers talk about is loneliness.

11,000 calls were received in the first two weeks following the national launch.

Current operations[edit]

As well as running the helpline, The Silver Line has 3,000 volunteer "Silver Line Friends" who make regular friendship calls, or exchange letters with older people.[10] It also offers Silver Circles (facilitated group calls for people who share a common interest). The Silver LIne also makes a further 1,500 ‘keeping in touch’ calls every week to isolated older people. In November 2015, it launched Silver Line Connects to provide older people with more intensive support, advice, and help with connecting to local services.[11]

On Sunday 7 August 2016, the helpline received its one millionth call, reaching this figure in less than three years since its national launch.[12] It currently receives around 10,000 calls a week, two thirds of them are received at night-time and weekends, when no other helpline is available specifically for older people who may be lonely, isolated or confused,[13] while 85% of callers each month are contacting The Silver LIne for the first time.[14]

In December 2016, the charity announced that the helpline had moved into its own offices in Blackpool where staff directly employed by The Silver Line handle calls from all parts of the United Kingdom.[15]

On 17 July 2017, it was announced that HRH The Duchess of Cornwall had become Patron of the charity.

Further evaluation of The Silver Line[edit]

In November 2016, Anglia Ruskin University published an evaluation into the work of The Silver Line.[16] The report showed that the charity is succeeding in reaching out to lonely people. It found that "over one in three people who are supported by the friendship service (in which they are matched by a like-minded volunteer) record the highest score on a scale of loneliness called the UCLA-3 index, whereas only about one in 20 people of their age and gender typically register a score this high".[17]


  1. ^ "Welcome". The Silver Line. Retrieved 2013-11-23.
  2. ^ "Our Story". The Silver Line. Retrieved 2013-11-23.
  3. ^ a b Philipson, Alice (2013-11-19). "Esther Rantzen: older people are not 'rubbish to be discarded'". The Telegraph. Retrieved 2013-11-23.
  4. ^ a b Rantzen, Esther (2012-03-02). "My lifeline for the lonely: How Esther Rantzen is launching a new phoneline after being moved by Mail readers' letters". Mail Online. Retrieved 2013-11-23.
  5. ^ "Our People". The Silver Line. Retrieved 2013-11-23.
  6. ^ "What We Do". The Silver Line. Retrieved 2013-11-23.
  7. ^ "Esther Rantzen launches 'phone friend' service for older people across Manchester". Manchester City Council. 2012-11-26. Retrieved 2013-11-23.
  8. ^ a b "Older people's £5 million Lottery silver lining". Big Lottery Fund. 2013-09-11. Retrieved 2013-11-23.
  9. ^ "Jersey Age Concern head says elderly helpline 'confusing'". BBC News. 2013-07-25. Retrieved 2013-11-23.
  10. ^ "Silver Line Telephone Friend".
  11. ^ "What we do".
  12. ^ "Helpline for lonely older people gets its one millionth call" (PDF).
  13. ^ "Helpline for older people names London's loneliness calls hotspots" (PDF).
  14. ^ "The Silver Line Helpline Annual Report and Financial Statements for the year ended 31 March 2016 (Statement of the Chief Executive Officer)" (PDF).
  15. ^ "Dame Esther Rantzen opens helpline's new 'home'" (PDF).
  16. ^ "The Silver Line: Tackling Loneliness in Older People : Evaluation Research Report".
  17. ^ "Loneliness 'tip of the iceberg' for older people".