A charity which helps those in the grip of loneliness is bracing itself for a “avalanche” of calls over Christmas from lonely people in Yorkshire.
The Silver Line has already seen numbers swell in the run up to the festive season, with 600 more calls across Leeds, Sheffield and York in November compared to 2014 - 3,300. That is roughly 110 calls a day from lonely older people in the region, and the helpline, which operates around the clock, expects to see double the number of calls over Christmas and New Year.
It is desperately in need of more volunteers in Yorkshire to help man its phone line, act as befrienders by regularly calling an older person in need of company, and write letters in its penpal scheme.
The Silver Line was founded by ChildLine founder Esther Rantzen, who last year praised the Yorkshire Post for its award-winning Loneliness: The Hidden Epidemic campaign.
She said: “Like many of our Silver Line callers, I know what loneliness feels like - and Christmas is especially difficult if you are on your own. When my late husband Desmond Wilcox died, I tried to make our family Christmas as joyous as it had always been, but it was impossible.
“In the words of one of our callers, Christmas Day became ‘just another day I had to get through’. We can make this Christmas happier and the start of a much happier New Year.”
Community development worker Alison Eagle, 53, of Leeds, has been making friendship calls to a woman in her 90s through the Silver Line for the last two years.
She said: “Because she can’t get out on her own her, she spends a lot of time at home just sitting, and she felt like she didn’t speak to anyone.
“I don’t see it as volunteering anymore, she has become a friend.”
Silver Line caller Joseph, 81, from Yorkshire, is often confined to his home for health reasons. While his family do visit him regularly, his Silver Line Friend offers him an extra window on the world.
“I first heard about The Silver Line when I saw Esther Rantzen on TV reading out the helpline number.
“I rang the helpline a few times and then one day I had a phone call and the person said ‘It’s Esther’. I thought, ‘I don’t know an Esther’ and then she said ‘Esther Rantzen’ and I said ‘Oh, pull the other one it has bells on!’ But it was her and we had a lovely chat.
“After this, I was matched with a Silver Line Friend and we have been talking for nearly two years. I’m a Yorkshire man and she is an Essex girl and we like different things, but that doesn’t matter. We get on like a house on fire and she says she likes my sense of humour.
“I know I can’t say she is my family, but she is like family to me. I really enjoy our calls.
“I will be going to my eldest daughter’s for Christmas Day and Boxing Day. I am very lucky as she does a lot for me.”
Sophie Andrews, chief executive of The Silver Line, said: “Since our launch two years ago, our 24/7 year-round helpline has received over 680,000 calls, and this is growing exponentially. We have just had our busiest day with over 1500 calls in one day.
“Over the days around Christmas last year, we handled more than twice the number of calls than on the average day and we expect that could grow even higher this year.
“On Christmas Day, many older people will be getting a call from their Silver Line Friend and for the vast majority that will be the only person they speak to that day
“But we also know there are thousands, even millions more that we haven’t yet reached. That’s why we are asking more people in Leeds to help and volunteer their time – either as a ‘Silver Line Friend’ to chat with an isolated older person, or to support our work through donations or festive fund raising, or spread the word so more people hear about our helpline.”
To volunteer with Silver Line visit www.thesilverline.org.uk. To call the confidential helpline, ring 0800 4 70 80 90 .