Since the Big Lottery-funded Silver Line opened nearly a year ago, it’s proved a lifeline for thousands of older people who are lonely or distressed. Robert Blow spoke to Silver Line call advisers Alan Walsh and Alyson Lazell on why it’s great to talk
“When I get off the phone I feel like I belong to the human race.” The comment is typical of the thousands of people who’ve called The Silver Line since it opened on 25 November 2013.
“On the first day we received 2,000 calls. People were melting the phones trying to get through.” Alan Walsh and Alison Lazell are two of the helpline’s dedicated staff who have been there right from the start. “It was as if there was this tremendous need out there, and people just couldn’t get wait to get on the phone to us.”
The statistics about older people and loneliness are frightening. More than half of all 75 year olds in the UK live alone and one in ten suffers “intense” loneliness but is reluctant to ask for help. In a poll conducted to mark the launch of The Silver Line, nine out of ten older people told researchers that “a chat on the phone” is the most helpful solution when they feel lonely but one in four say they never or seldom have someone to chat to on the phone.
I asked Alan and Alyson what a typical shift on the Silver Line feels like.
“There’s not really an average day. You hear an incredible range of life experiences. One minute, you might be talking to Welsh hill farmer; the next to a 90 year old lady from Hackney. You hear about the life of someone’s who worked all round the world. They’ve rung you for help, but at the same time talking to them is an education in itself.
“You do hear sad stories: someone with MS who hasn’t been able to leave the house for 10 years; people who’ve been married for 60 years and just lost their partner. There was one caller who’d got himself a criminal record because he kept on ringing the emergency services; he was that desperate for someone to talk to.”
Like all the Silver Line staff and volunteers, Alan and Alyson have been professionally trained in handling calls of every kind. On rare occasions they may pick up the phone and talk to someone who feels suicidal. I asked what their approach would be.
“We try to act like a good friend. We ask open questions and we’re not judgmental. We don’t put pressure on people. Perhaps the person doesn’t really want to kill themselves; they just feel so lonely. You get an incredible feeling if you manage to turn round someone’s mood. They ring up feeling low and then you talk them through it and they end the call laughing and joking. It’s like shining a torch into the darkness. The light comes on; the mood lifts. It’s incredible to witness. ”
Alan and Alyson feel incredibly privileged to do this work, because often people will confide in them when they wouldn’t to their own family. “Sometimes the grief is too close to talk to your nearest and dearest. For example, there was a man who rang up whose wife was dying. He desperately needed comforting, but he couldn’t talk to his family because they were upset too and he felt he had to be brave for them.”
I ask what kind of person it takes to be a Silver Line call adviser. “You need good communication skills, listening skills, empathy. We talk to anybody about anything. Not all the calls are sad. Sometimes, you get to share nice things, like congratulating someone you’ve got to know on the phone who’s celebrating their 100th birthday.”
Silver Line advisers will offer a chat and sympathy if that’s all the caller wants. People often ring up just to say Good night. But they will also try to signpost someone who’s feeling lonely and isolated to somewhere where they can make friends, such as an Age UK lunch club. The Silver Line’s remit is as wide as the needs of older people, so people will ring up who need practical help but don’t know where to turn. Alan and Alyson have the knowledge and information at hand to direct someone to the right council service or government department.
Both Alan and Alyson obviously love their jobs. Working on the Silver Line might be an “emotional rollercoaster” but for them it offers satisfactions and compensations far from the draining routine of target-driven environments.
“It’s incredibly rewarding to work in a place where everyone is so committed. Most jobs are about money. But this is about having a conversation with a real person.”
The Silver Line is a free, 24 hour confidential helpline for older people, open all day, every day, offering information, friendship, advice, and protection from abuse and neglect.
Need help or just someone to chat to? You can call the Silver Line at any time on 0800 4 70 80 90.
In this, the next in the series of regular updates for would-be grant holders, Karen Addison from the Big Advice team shares her top tips for getting started on your search for funding…
I haven’t done this before, how do I get started?
This is one of our most popular questions! The best place to start is our website www.biglotteryfund.org.uk The funding finder will identify the most appropriate grant for your group and provide an application form with guidance, to get you started.
We are not a charity does that mean we can’t apply for lottery funding?
You don’t have to be a registered charity to apply for funding. You do need to be set up as an organisation with social aims before you can apply. All your group needs is a committee (with at least three unrelated people), a governing document (such as a constitution), and a bank account (with two unrelated people who can sign for it).
I don’t know where to start! Which funding programme is the one for us?
If you have a project idea, the first question to consider is will it cost under or over £10,000? There are two ongoing funding streams that are open with no closing date:
- Awards for All England offers small grants of between £300 and £10,000 www.biglotteryfund.org.uk/global-content/programmes/england/awards-for-all-england
- Reaching Communities England offers larger grants to projects costing over £10,000. If you need funding for land or buildings projects costing over £100,000 look at the Reaching Communities buildings strand
What are outcomes?
Outcomes are how we need you to describe the changes that your project can make to the lives of the people who use it. Outcomes are not the activities or services that your project provides. You will need to use outcomes to tell us about the impact you will make with the funding if you are awarded it.
Is there any other help available?
The website and our online resources can help you understand the funding process and how to apply to it. Split into easy to access links they can help you plan a successful project and create a stronger application www.biglotteryfund.org.uk/funding/funding-guidance/applying-for-funding
Sign up for our England e-bulletin to keep up to date with Big Lottery Fund news and receive announcements of new funding opportunities on the website www.biglotteryfund.org.uk
Build-it gives young people the opportunity to learn construction skills from professional trade mentors, all working together to rebuild community spaces. Since Build-it launched in March 2013, over 700 young people have been supported through the programme working across 15 sites in Lambeth, south London. Head of Build-it James Alexander describes the difference it can make to the young people involved.
I first met Ralph at HMP Thameside where he was finishing a sentence for armed robbery. Ralph told us how he had learnt plastering while inside and was now ready to get some practical experience and make something of his life. Three days after his release, in November 2013, Ralph began work at a Build-it site at Brixton Green.
Ralph was part of a team turning an old ‘Meals on Wheels’ site into a community space. The conditions onsite were challenging and extremely cold, which led to poor morale and often a lack of mentors. Nevertheless Ralph was always on time.
I remember one particularly busy Thursday last December when a local company offered to send their staff down to help finish painting a building that we were refurbishing through Build-it. I was concerned whether we’d be able to manage the volunteers as one mentor had phoned in sick that day but Ralph came to me and said: “Don’t worry James, I’ve got this.” Ralph then went on to organise all 20 volunteers into various groups, giving each of them roles and responsibilities. The day, which could have been very tricky, was a resounding success, with all participants enjoying the experience and the work being completed!
It soon became clear that Ralph was a valuable mentor for many other young participants on Build-it. So in January 2014 Ralph became a paid mentor on the programme. This has come as a result of his commitment to the project and hard work ethic. He is a role model to others and a great example of what can be achieved through volunteering in your local community.
Not every young person will achieve this working on Build-it, but we hope that we will have helped them to prepare for the future. Whether that’s securing a job or moving back into education or just simply knowing more about what they want to do.
Build-it is run by London Youth, which has received £1.7 million from Big Lottery Fund.
In March 2013 Build-it featured in Channel 4’s The Secret Millions. You can watch it again on Channel 4, Tuesday 15 July at 02:05.
Weight related bullying plagued Callum throughout his school life, eventually bringing him to the brink of suicide. Now 17, Callum, from Wolverhampton helps others his age cope with similar problems.
My background all starts from when I was in primary school in year three. I wasn’t the slimmest of lads my age and a lot of my bullying in primary school was all to do with weight. But part of it was also to do with the fact that I couldn’t spell certain words or because I wouldn’t go and play with some of the kids.
A lot of the time teachers didn’t spot that I was being bullied. And, to be honest, I never felt that any teacher actually understood what I was going through.
When I got into high school I spent a lot of my time in my bedroom. I cut myself off. I got to a point where I was feeling really depressed and I just wanted to kill myself. My mum actually took away all my games consoles and the wires because of the thoughts I was having. It was quite tough at the time because I heard a lot of kids talk about the stuff they got to do at home and there was me just sitting there alone in my bedroom.
It carried on until I was in year eight and then I left the school I was in and the bullies and everyone else behind and went to a new school. I got bullied a lot there at the start. But after a while I just started to ignore it.
I went through counselling and it didn’t really help me at all, but peer support might have been a bit different. I might have got a group which would have been a lot more friendly.
Because of what happened to me I got involved in a peer support network. I just enjoy helping out young people who need it. I can give them advice about where they can go to get help and how they can be safe online with Facebook. I’ve helped someone get past a phobia of going out, which has given them more independence. With my support they can now go on the bus on their own and go to college and even out to meet friends. Before they wouldn’t go out to meet friends because they were scared of what might happen.
Projects like this are really important because a lot of kids need support. Peer support is great because you feel good about yourself when you help other people, so it’s really helping two people at the same time.
- HeadStart is funding 10 new mental health projects, each receiving £500,000 to help young people deal with life’s ups and downs.
- Peer support is just one of the services offered to young people through HeadStart
- If you are a young person experiencing problems like Callum’s you can get help from www.Mindfull.org
The National Lottery has launched Play makes it possible – linking playing the Lottery with the life-changing community projects supported by the Good Causes, including Big Lottery Fund.
One of the projects featured in the TV advert is Tenovus, the Wales-based cancer charity that aims to prevent, treat and find a cure for cancer. Tenovus have received £1 million from Big Lottery Fund to expand their Sing With Us choirs.
Jean Phillips is a member of the Bridgend Sing With Us choir along with her husband Huw, who has cancer. Jean recently wrote us the following letter.
I am the wife of a cancer sufferer and we are supported by Tenovus in so many ways. Huw is very poorly now but we are both members of one of their Sing With Us choirs – namely Bridgend. However, we have been associated and helped by them since Huw was invited to be a member of their “Big C Choir”.
I cannot even begin to tell you how helpful and supportive they have been. They have helped us to claim an attendance allowance successfully and their support line is always open to us. There have been times when I have felt completely alone in trying to help Huw with the pain and other side effects of his advanced prostate cancer – we try to be completely independent – however their helpline has helped me enormously to aid Huw on those occasions.
However, the biggest support for both of us is being members of Tenovus Sing With Us Bridgend Choir. It is one of the 16 choirs they now run and it is like a second family to all of us who belong to it. Like many others, there have been times when Huw has been too ill to go to rehearsal. Or perhaps he has gone but been a bit poorly whilst there. Or perhaps it has been me who has broken down whilst there….music is very emotional but healing nevertheless.
Members are all in similar situations, or grieving still, and they all rally round at those times. Being in this choir has also led to deeper friendships among members, including ourselves, which is the finest support anyone can have. It would not have happened without Tenovus Sing With Us choirs. We have coffee mornings, car treasure hunts, lunches, raffles to help with travel costs for gigs and an upcoming 1st anniversary dinner.
The amount of good the Lottery money has done is indefinable in this instance. Support for each other cannot be quantified in terms of money or numbers and nor can the extremely strong “feel-good factor” which comes with the singing we so love. Tenovus chooses the songs particularly suited to our situations and their specially commissioned “Sing For Life” (written for them by singer-songwriter Cat Southall) is just so apt that it has brought many in the audiences to tears.
I just want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for being the ‘cause’ and allowing this to happen. We have made so many good friends through it all and that includes many of the marvellous Tenovus staff. They do so much for us and very often in their own time, not in working hours. Tenovus could not have used your money more wisely!
Disability charity, Papworth Trust received £2 million from the Big Lottery Fund to purchase and renovate Kerry Farm and fund respite holidays for families. Paul, Sue, Sue’s grandson Warren and personal assistant Luke went to Kerry Farm in June 2014.
This is Paul’s story.
It seems impossible to relate in less than 400 words what the Papworth Trust have created in Kerry Farm, how much it meant to my family and what it will mean to those yet to visit.
But I’ll try…
After years in the role, the daily caring routine often de-personalises kinship carers. Finances may suffer because long caring hours might preclude working. The family is at high risk of fragmentation or social isolation: nobody you know really understands the stark reality of caring, long-term for a disabled child or other relative.
Everything the carer has is given freely to the disabled person and they wear out: physically and, maybe especially, emotionally. In extreme cases, real depression follows.
Carers cope somehow. They have to.
We didn’t really know quite what to expect at Kerry Farm. It was to be Warren’s first-ever holiday and ours as a family unit.
We were welcomed on arrival and smiling within minutes. Within hours, the ‘real world’ seemed a distant dream.
There was no sense of pressure whatsoever; the staff made it clear that we could be as involved in organised activities as we wished. If we wanted to do anything specific, they would try and arrange it for us. Whatever we did, we were required to do one thing – relax and be ourselves.
To be together as a family, without normal routine and in a disabled-friendly environment was unique in itself.
There was no judgement, no expectation. The staff were fantastic. They listened if we needed to talk, together or individually. They helped with anything we needed, showing natural empathy, without prejudice or pre-conception, something rarely encountered. Nothing was too much trouble.
Meeting other families with similar lives was brilliant. Shared experiences were openly discussed with real understanding of each others’ situations. We discovered we really aren’t alone!
Kerry Farm provides a uniquely invaluable escape from the pressures that families like ours suffer from to a greater or lesser extent. It offers a retreat: a getaway, where the world can be forgotten for a few days. A few days to pause, rest, meet and make new friends, experience a different environment and above all, relax together.
Every kinship carer and their family need access to a Kerry Farm.
I am going to repeat that loud and clear…
Every kinship carer and their family need access to a Kerry Farm!
Oh… did I mention the animals?
If you’d like to read more about our week at Kerry Farm, please visit www.papworthtrust.org.uk/warren
You can find out more about Kerry Farm on their website www.papworthtrust.org.uk/kerryfarm
In March 2013 the project featured in an episode of Channel 4’s The Secret Millions. You can watch again on Channel 4, Monday 7 July at 00:35.
Justin Nield is a Service User Engagement Co-ordinator working on the Fulfilling Lives: supporting people with Multiple Needs programme in Blackpool, who have received £9,997,458 from the Big Lottery Fund.
I haven’t always been a Programme Co-ordinator and I lived with Multiple and Complex needs for most of my adult life. I spent over 20 years in active addiction, suffered with enduring mental health issues and ended up living on the streets, frightened, confused and vulnerable.
In 2011, with the co-ordinated support of multiple agencies working together and a team of dedicated workers, I finally managed to get clean and sober, find stable accommodation and a sustainable treatment package. Currently, I am in full time employment as a valued member of the Blackpool Fulfilling Lives team and I am studying for my degree.
There are clearly shortfalls and gaps in Blackpool’s current service delivery and the way in which we support people with multiple and complex needs. In my experience there are a number of reasons for this: lack of communication, lack of collaboration, lack of available funds, massive cuts in funding, negative mentality of workers and an unwillingness to share best practice.
Don’t get me wrong, there are some fantastic organisations currently operating in Blackpool and lots of dedicated, passionate workers. But we all need to be working together in co-production, with a shared vision and working practice to really sustain positive outcomes and systemic change.
Working together in partnership we can change the way in which we support vulnerable adults living in the UK with Multiple and Complex needs. An example of how it’s already working in Blackpool; One area of increasing activity and cost in is emergency ambulance call outs, with activity growing at approximately 6% a year. Out of fifty Frequent Callers, a small cohort (six) were identified as vulnerable adults living with complex needs, the impact this group have on emergency and unscheduled service is huge (approximately 40 call outs per month). The ambulance service and emergency costs alone reach £13,480 per month on a rolling basis. Fulfilling Lives working in co-production with the Frequent Caller initiative supported these six people back into current services and co-ordinated specific care planning. As a result of this work these people are not only better supported, but over a period of three months, costs have reduced from £447 to £44. It’s not rocket science!
I believe that getting the right co-ordinated support, at the right time, saved my life.
Fulfilling Lives is potentially the ‘Game Changer’ for the way in which we support people living with multiple and complex needs, not only in Blackpool but across the whole of the UK.