First off, thanks to my colleague Jeff for flagging this project with me, which I’d completely forgotten about. This post is inspired by my embarrassment that I forgot about it.
This time last year an initiative called The Silver Line was launched, with the backing of British TV icon and consumer rights champion Esther Rantzen (first thought, gosh, she’s an interesting character. I have childhood TV memories but she’s had a huge influence – google her biography).I guess it is a chatline (not that sort – or maybe it is in some cases???) for older people who suffer from loneliness to get an opportunity to be matched with someone who can spare some time to have a chat with them over the phone.
I can recommend reading the news item on their first anniversary which gives a really lovely description of what they do and some of the impact they are making on the lives of older people across the country.
A few things have struck me in reading up about this project:
• Technology: a lot of the projects that catch my eye tend to either use the internet or emerging technologies in an interesting way to connect people. This project’s primary vehicle is a bit of tech that is in its own right revolutionary but that we take for granted – the telephone. And the phone is ubiquitous in nature. Not everyone has a computer, not everyone has a smart phone, but the vast majority have access to at least one phone. This is a really great use of an established and fairly resilient infrastructure.
• Evolution of an idea: I was interested to read that “silver circles” had started to develop amongst users – people arranging conference calls rather than one to ones. An obvious step really, but encouraging to see the need and desire to connect and socialise with a wider network of people.
• The role of Esther Rantzen – this really gets me for some reason. If I were looking for a celebrity backer right now, she’d be the last person I’d think of, but it is a stroke of genius that speaks to understanding the cultural references of your audience. I wonder if they’ll end up recruiting different backers as their generational demographic evolves.
• It’s not ChildLine – I think someone has described it as the ChildLine for older people. While clearly some cases of neglect/abuse are uncovered through this, I think they are fundamentally different. Volunteers are trained, and there are obviously some rules to the game, but the emphasis on fun and enjoyment to me suggests the awakening of long dormant strengths rather than an safe space for the vulnerable. I think this is a good thing, and means that it doesn’t have the potential stigma of crisis.
So as you can probably tell, I’m a fan of this project, and my immediate thought was “I need to hook up my grandmas to this sort of thing”. And then it hit me. Wouldn’t it just be better if I called them a little more often than never? Reading the stories of older people who are feeling lonely, whose families never call, I may as well be reading about my own family at times. A project like this is great, but what is even better is not needing it in the first place.
Time will tell if I put my money where my mouth is, but while The Silver Line no doubt does a great job strengthening the resilience of the older people who participate, a few of us picking up the phone now and again might also have a greater impact on family and community resilience as well.