Swiss Re and The Silver Line helpline

Swiss Re together with Swiss Re Foundation was one of the first supporters of The Silver Line helpline when its founder and chair Esther Rantzen CBE described her vision to Russell Higginbotham, CEO Swiss Re UK and Lorraine Sage, Senior Communications Manager, Vice President, Communications. They immediately grasped the importance of The Silver Line having worked alongside Esther at the NSPCC and ChildLine, which has been supported by Swiss Re.

Esther Rantzen’s vision to create a “ChildLine for older people” is a simple concept – a free 24 hour helpline, available every day and night of the year, where older people can talk in confidence, get some friendly advice about services in their area, or quite simply have a chat. And for people who would appreciate a regular call from the same person every week, there are volunteers, known as Silver Line Friends, who share Silver Line’s belief that a simple connection with another human being can make a difference. 

As one caller told his Silver Line friend “when I get off the phone, I feel like I belong to the human race”.

There is well-documented and widespread loneliness and isolation among older people, half of whom over the age of 75 live alone, which can have a hugely detrimental effect on their health.  Figures from the Department of Health indicate it is as dangerous as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, causing depression and heart problems. Socially isolated and lonely adults are also more likely to undergo early admission into residential care or hospital.

The Swiss Re Foundation has supported The Silver Line pilot which expanded from Manchester and the North West to Newcastle and the North East in June 2013. There have been more than 3000 calls to the Silver Line pilot. 30% of people call at night and these callers tend to require more emotional support. While most callers are female, a large proportion of men call too. The majority of callers are aged between 60 and 80 and data is collected on their initial reason for calling. 25% request telephone befriending straight away, while 12% express feelings of loneliness and isolation and require some emotional support. 19% ask for general information and 13% for specific advice. 5% want to volunteer and 2% to discuss concerns about abuse. To date some 400 individuals have requested weekly calls from Silver Line Friends.

Take Dora for example. She began by saying she just wanted information but as she chatted for the next 20 minutes, we learned the real reason for her call: she spoke of death of her husband 15 years ago, and feelings of loneliness that unexpectedly overwhelm her from time to time, knocking her off balance. “I’m quite a chirpy person,’ she said. “I’m usually very cheerful, so I’m surprised that there are times when I feel so down. I live by myself.” As the conversation ended, we asked one last question with which we end all our calls: “Dora, if The Silver Line was not here, would you be able to talk like this to anyone else?”  “No” she said. “I think I’m too proud.”  But she said she would like a weekly, booked call from a Silver Line Friend.

And a Silver Line friendship can be a lifesaver. A volunteer rang a terminally ill lady for a chat, to find that she had fallen behind with her bills, so her heating had been cut off, and her out-going phone calls.  She was in bed, in a freezing cold house, utterly isolated. Who knows what could have happened if we had not called her? We alerted social services who arranged emergency payments for her, and restored her heating and phone calls.

The Silver Line is already working with most of the key organisations operating in this sector including Age UK, Action on Elder Abuse, The Samaritans, RVS, The Red Cross, Contact the Elderly, Independent Age, The Campaign to End Loneliness, Gransnet and many others. The Silver Line will provide vital links to their services which can be hard for individuals to access, as well as identify where gaps and overlaps in provision and encourage feedback from older people about which services work best for them.  This should also prove beneficial to the referral organisations.

The pilot funded by Comic Relief, BT and Swiss Re Foundation will continue until the national launch of The Silver Line on 25th November 2013 with a publicity campaign based on a survey of attitudes to loneliness among older people and coverage on TV news across all channels, and a special report on the BBC’s ONE Show, radio and press coverage. The aim is for the Silver Line to be available for every older person in the UK who needs it in time for Christmas 2013.

There will be three different services offered by the Silver Line:

The Helpline: Callers to the 24 hour Silver Line Helpline will be answered by staff who will chat to them and give them any information they may request, and explore whether the caller wants regular contact with a Silver Line Friend. 

Silver Line Caller Care: will arrange befriending referrals.  They will work with the most vulnerable group who may need some help in building their confidence and trust before being ready to receive friendship calls.  Caller care will also make specialist or safeguarding referrals.

Silver Line Friends:  are vetted and trained volunteers who will be matched to callers based on interests.  Volunteers will provide a booked telephone or email befriending contact once a week. A review will take place at least every 12 weeks. They will also facilitate regular conference calls called Silver Circles that may be general conversation or devoted to special interests.

J told The Silver Line, “It kind of chokes me up to think how my Silver Line friend’s interest in my cooking and music managed to get me out of a depression that had been with me since 2005”

The Silver Line with one simple national number 0800 4 70 80 90 will be widely publicised throughout the media. In particular the focus will be on hard-to-reach individuals who may be very isolated and not known to existing service providers.  The Silver Line is already experimenting with different ways to reach people who rarely leave their homes, such as enclosing Silver Line leaflets and cards with the phone number in meal and pharmacy deliveries. 

Based on comparisons with ChildLine at the time of its launch nearly 30 years ago, and on the pilot experience which has been supported by The Swiss Re Foundation, The Silver Line is planning to receive around one million calls within the first 12 months of national operation, with some 12,000 requests for befriending.

The Swiss Re Foundation is one of three key founding partners of The Silver Line, along with BT and Comic Relief, whose support has made the national launch of the helpline possible.