The Silver Line needs funds so it can continue to be a lifeline to those who are lonely. People whose only human contact comes when they ring up the helpline are now overwhelming the service which took its two millionth call over the weekend. The free round-the-clock service costs £5million a year to run but the £10million five-year Lottery grant which helped it launch in 2013 runs out in September.
The charity receives 10,000 calls from desperately lonely pensioners every week but could be forced to make cuts unless it receives an urgent injection of cash.
Widowed Dame Esther, 78, said: “The harsh reality is we need to raise money, we urgently need funds to meet demand which is growing exponentially. We have become the emergency service for older people so the last thing we want to do is reduce the service.
The request for help from The Silver Line highlights a crisis in care among Britain’s forgotten generation. Since it was set up, one in five calls has gone unanswered as the service struggles to meet the demand. Its annual income has risen from £50,000 in 2013 to £5.1million.
But it acknowledges it cannot forever rely on Lottery handouts. Companies including Saga, BT, Swiss Re insurance and People’s Postcode Lottery back The Silver Line but Dame Esther estimates it needs £200,000 to make it to the end of the year once Lottery funding ends.
In an emotional appeal to the public, Dame Esther said: “We could not have launched without The Big Lottery Fund and it was thanks to them that we were able to uncover the epidemic of loneliness.
“We had to expand as fast as we could to meet demand. Now we are asking for your help. With the number of calls constantly increasing, without an injection of cash we will have to make cuts to the service in September, there is no question about that.