Half an hour - that’s all it takes

Leighton Buzzard grandmother Dorothea Conti who is a Silver Line telephone friend
Leighton Buzzard grandmother Dorothea Conti who is a Silver Line telephone friend

Can you spare half an hour a week? That’s literally all the time it takes to change someone’s life and bring a little joy into the world of an old person who may be housebound and living alone.

Octogenarian Dorothea Conti of Stanbridge is on a mission to get as many people as possible to follow in her footsteps to sign up as a telephone friend on Esther Rantzen’s Silver Line.

The former Southcott Lower School teacher said: “Half an hour a week, that’s all you need.

“Half an hour! I’m sure anybody could manage that.”

She’s horrified by the statistics that more than half of those over 75 live on their own. It makes her realise just how lucky she is having her family – including eight grandchildren – living close by.

“My telephone friend is a very pleasant woman who has severe health problems but she’s always bright and cheerful,” Dorothea said.

“Silver Line tries to pair you up with someone who has similar interests – we’re both into painting and drawing.

“She tells me about her life and we chat about this and that – we were swopping recipes this week.”

Silver Line’s director of policy and communications, Sara Caplin, also has a telephone friend.

She said: “We do Monday’s Telegraph crossword together. She’s always got it completed by Wednesday and she’s showing me how to unravel cryptic clues.”

The charity has received 490,000 calls since its launch in November 2013 and has 1,600 volunteers.

A new intake is currently being recruited for September.

Saea said: “We’re looking for people who are empathetic and enjoy chatting. But we do ask for references.

“It’s particularly good for people who live in rural areas. Volunteers can be visually impaired and they don’t have to be physically able, but they do need a computer.

“Connections are made through a call centre and are free to volunteers, who don’t know the number of their telephone friend.”

She explained: “It’s all about friendship, but friendship with boundaries.”

Calls are recorded for safety purposes.

Founder Dame Esther Rantzen started Silver Line after her husband died and she realised how very painful loneliness can be.

She said: “It erodes your confidence, your physical health and your mental health.

“And it’s at epidemic proportions – there are more than a million older people who say they feel the pain of loneliness.

“I had the idea of a helpline that would be there every day of the year and all through the night for people to turn to for company, for conversation, to heal the emptiness that loneliness creates.
“We choose our team very carefully but they all have one thing in common – they really do love chatting to older people, sharing memories, maybe offering advice or information or maybe just having a chat.”

If you’d like to become a volunteer, email volunteering@thesilverline.org.uk

> Dame Esther has appealed to LBO readers to vote for the Silver Line to receive Big Lottery funding. Register your vote at www.lotterygoodcauses.org.uk/project/silver-line-helpline