Janet Wallcraft feared she'd never have a "happy ending" after finding herself intensely lonely after returning to Yorkshire after decades away in 2014.
But she has gained a new perspective on life, formed friendships and discovered new hobbies after finding help from Esther Rantzen's Silver Line.
The phone line, which has been running for over four years, sees its funding end this year - just as demand in Yorkshire is going up. The Yorkshire Post has been campaigning to raise awareness of the issue of loneliness, and support services that exist to help those affected, since 2014.
Ms Wallcraft, 69, who lived in Wakefield in the 1960s before moving away then resettling in Morley, Leeds, four years ago, felt she didn’t “have a community” after returning to Yorkshire to live near to her sister, who lives in Gildersome.
“I didn’t have any friends in Yorkshire and was very much starting again, after having a stroke and moving to be closer to my sister,” she said. “After my stroke I could no longer work as a freelance researcher in mental health, something that took me around the country. After finishing work I lost my sense of purpose.
“Suddenly I was very alone, with no job, hardly any friends, and starting again at an age when I was beginning to notice that I was getting older, and wasn’t in my fifties anymore. I was struggling.”
During previous battles with depression, Ms Wallcraft, who has two children, a daughter who lives in Oxford and a son who lives in India, had found calling The Samaritans to be a real lifelines, but despite her difficulties, didn’t feel like it was appropriate to use the charity this time around.
Instead, she learnt of the Silver Line, that was set up in 2013 to support isolated and lonely older people.
As well as offering a 24-hour-a-day helpline, it arranges volunteer-led telephone befrienders and also pen-pals, both of which Ms Wallcraft took up.
She said: “It has added something to my life. I speak to my phone friend every Friday, and we talk about everything from what we’ve watched on television, to her cats, and our hobbies. She is into art and that’s inspired me to take up painting again, and I’m starting an art course soon.”
Tricia Clark, 64, from Leeds, is a volunteer with Silver Line and said it is “one of the very best things” she has ever done. She now trains new volunteers befrienders.
She said: “Not only do I love the interactions with the people I speak to every week but I know that I'm doing something very worthwhile, especially when they tell me how much they look forward to the calls and how much difference it makes to their lives.”
The Silver Line’s Big Lottery funding comes to an end this year - leaving the charity with a £5m financial black hole to plug. It needs to raise around £15,000 a day to keep going.
Chief executive Sophie Andrews said: “In the four and a half years since our national launch, our service has grown from strength to strength: we now employ over 200 staff and have the support of 4,000 volunteers making weekly calls from home.
“We have received over 1.8m calls - averaging more than one every minute - and it is clear that the service is plugging an important gap, both in the charity network and also within social care as increasingly we are taking more calls at evenings and weekends when other services are closed.
“Older people call us about their own loneliness and isolation, some may be reporting abuse, and many call us for information about local services. We know that there are many excellent local services in operation but many people don’t know they exist. In that way we fulfil a vital role in linking people back into their own communities.
“And some people quite simply call for a chat; but for the majority of our callers we are the only people that they have spoken to, in days or even weeks.”
Friendship lunches expand
Two new events for lonely or isolated people take place in South Yorkshire next week.
Following the success of similar events in Sheffield and Barnsley, Home Instead Senior Care has arranged its first friendship lunch in Rotherham for this Monday, May 21, at Sir Jack’s Carvery in Bramley at 12pm.
For more information call Antoinette Bingham on 01709 837170.
Next Wednesday, May 23, Home Instead in Doncaster is running an afternoon tea at Rossington Hall aimed at people living with dementia and those at risk of loneliness. Guest speaker will be John Stiles, the son of World Cup footballer Nobby Stiles. To book call 01302 369655.