Business First | Interview with Sophie Andrews, CEO of Silver Line

Inside Business First: Silver Line

27 Oct 2016 –– Case Studies
The Silverline is based at our Blackpool business centre

When Silver Line moved into their new offices in Business First’s Blackpool Business Centre, we thought it would be a great time to interview Sophie Andrews, Silver Line’s CEO, to talk about her business, its plans and why they chose Business First.

What’s the company's background?

The Silver Line (0800 4 70 80 90) is the only free, national, confidential helpline open every day and night that offers information, friendship and advice to older people.

Founded by Dame Esther Rantzen, the helpline was launched nationally in November 2013, following a pilot scheme that we ran across the North West of England. We are a charity and have been based in the Blackpool area since our launch, and also have a small office in London.

Over two-thirds of calls are made overnight or at weekends when no other helpline is available for older people who may be lonely, isolated or confused.

As a charity, we rely entirely on donations to run our services, which are free for the older people and volunteers. Our services include:

  • Silver Line Friends: a weekly chat on the phone between an older person and a volunteer Silver Line Friend;
  • Silver Letters: an exchange of regular letters and correspondence between an older person and a volunteer Silver Line Friend;
  • Silver Circles: a regular group call on a range of subjects that interest the callers; and
  • Silver Line Connects: help with informing and connecting an older person with national and local services.

We facilitate around 2,500 weekly phone calls and letters between volunteer Silver Line Friends and lonely older people, and the team undertakes around 1,000 reassurance calls each week to lonely or isolated older people.

How many people are involved in the company and what are their roles?

Silver Line has around 170 people in the helpline team here in Blackpool ensuring calls are answered day and night.

There are eight volunteer managers, based throughout the UK, who support the 3,000 volunteer Silver Line Friends that we have recruited and trained.

We also have a small team in London who recruit volunteers and match older people to volunteer Silver Line Friends, as well as providing general support admin.

To date, what has been the highlight since launching?

There have been so many highlights. Every day we speak to older people who have led fascinating lives and share their memories – and their laughter – with us. We also regularly get letters and messages from callers who tell us how we have helped or supported them through a difficult time.

A major milestone came in August when we received the one millionth call to the helpline in just over 2½ years. In fact, Sunday 7 August was a new busiest-ever day for the helpline with 1,619 calls received just in 24 hours, outstripping the previous record set on New Year’s Day 2016.

This really brings home the epidemic of loneliness among older people and just how much we are needed.

How has your tenancy at Business First, Blackpool, helped The Silver Line?

We were keen to stay in Blackpool as it has proved a very successful base for us. A key advantage of the area was the ability for us to recruit and retain the right people. We need people who interact well with often-vulnerable helpline callers and many of our team have stayed with the helpline since its launch, providing a strong sense of continuity and community.

The Silver Line relies entirely on donations and we have just launched a campaign to raise £1.65milllion to meet the increasing demand from older people for our services, so it’s important that we use our funds carefully.

Moving to the new office with Business First Blackpool is an important part of being cost-effective and ensuring our future sustainability.

The new Blackpool office provides the extra space we needed and will become the main hub for our plans to involve volunteers in answering helpline calls in future, providing more opportunities for the local community to become further involved in our work.

How are you finding your new office at Business First Blackpool?

Moving a helpline is always a major undertaking as we have to keep going 24 hours a day, including the moment we actually ‘switched over’ but we have had great support from Business First Blackpool.

The offices are modern and have the facilities that, as a good employer, we want for our staff. They have great transport links, good security and easy access to the premises and offices. Feedback has been good from our team members – so even though we’ve just moved in we’re already enjoying life in our ‘new home’.

We’re now planning how we can make the best use of the opportunities that the new location offers us.