The Silver Line aims to help elderly people by giving them someone to speak to 24 hours a day, and will work like ChildLine by giving support and advice to those suffering neglect or abuse.
Ms Rantzen said a £5m grant means the Silver Line will be able to launch before Christmas – often the loneliest time of year for older people. She said the line aims to tackle the “stigma” attached to being lonely which “makes it impossible” for older people to ask for help and can damage their self esteem.
The Silver Line aims to tackle loneliness for older people and is run by volunteers who will refer callers to activities and organisations that can help them.
Ms Rantzen, also a trustee of the NSPCC, said she understood the challenges of getting funding for a new charity, having launched ChildLine in 1986. ChildLine now takes more than a million phone calls a year to give free counselling for children to discuss abuse and neglect.
She said: “The Silver Line is hugely grateful to Big Lottery Fund for enabling us to launch in time for Christmas, for many older people the loneliest time of the year. The Fund has recognised that millions of older people are lonely some or all of the time, but the loneliness carries a stigma which makes it impossible for them to ask for help.”
The Silver Line has been trialled in the North West and North East as well as Jersey since the end of last year, but the £5 million grant means it will be extended to the rest of the UK before Christmas.
Ella Brittain, who contacted the pilot phone line, said it was “very comforting” to have someone to talk to after her husband died and she didn’t want to be a burden to the rest of her family.
She told BBC Radio 4’s World At One: “I can’t tell the children I feel so low or I don’t want to get up in the morning, but I can tell a phone line.”
She said the free phone helpline didn’t just give advice, but also someone to talk to. It offers a ‘befriending service’ where users can book appointments for a phone call if they want to make new friends.
The freephone helpline will now aim to recruit new staff and 3,000 volunteers to man the line 24/7 and offer befriending services to 12,000 older people.