Celebrating 300 years

Dame Esther Rantzen in Lifelites video

The national children’s technology charity Lifelites has launched a fundraising video campaign featuring its latest patron, television presenter and broadcaster Dame Esther Rantzen.  

Last year Lifelites was a 2015 Nominet Trust 100 winner, and is the only charity to provide assistive and inclusive technology packages for terminally ill and disabled children in hospices across the British Isles. 

Dame Esther is featured in Lifelites’ latest awareness video, shown speaking to staff and young people at children’s hospices about the impact of the charity’s donation.

Published in Lifelites

National children’s technology charity Lifelites launches new fundraising video featuring Patron Dame Esther Rantzen

Lifelites is extremely grateful for her support and is delighted to welcome Dame Esther as their newest advocate and as the face of their new video.

Lifelites – recently recognised for their good work with technology as a 2015 Nominet Trust 100 winner – is the only charity to provide assistive and inclusive technology packages for terminally ill and disabled children in every baby and children’s hospice across the British Isles. The package of technologies is both provided and maintained by the charity.  

Esther’s initial involvement with the charity features the television presenter and broadcaster in their latest video which aims to raise awareness of the work of Lifelites. It showcases the magical Lifelites technology provided for the children being cared for by hospice services, giving them opportunities to play, be creative, control something for themselves and communicate – for as long as it is possible.

The video was filmed at children’s hospices where Esther got the chance to speak to staff and young people to understand the impact of the Lifelites donation. 

In the video Esther says: 'What if I told you that there is such thing as magic and that I have seen it with my very own eyes?  This magic is called… Lifelites.'

Esther encourages viewers to make a donation to the charity and ends her plea by saying: 'A donation from you can help Lifelites continue to give life limited children a voice up till the very last moment. You can give them the chance to smile and be happy for as long as they have to live. You can help Lifelites to give kids with limited life, unlimited possibilities. There really isn’t anything more magical than that.'

Simone Enefer-Doy, Chief Executive of Lifelites, said: 'We are extremely lucky that Esther has agreed to lend Lifelites her support for our new video. Not only is she is a high profile and respected personality, we know her experience in the charity sector will assist us with our fundraising which is a vital part of our work of course. She’s a great supporter of projects dedicated to improving young people’s quality of life in the same way we do here at Lifelites so she’s a perfect fit for our charity.'

Dame Esther joins a star-studded line-up of Lifelites Patrons which includes Rick Wakeman, Peter Bowles, Joe Pasquale Anita Dobson and Lord Cadogan (among others).

You can view the new Lifelites video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2XW3TYlRPos  

It is perfect to play if you have space in your lodge calendar. It is also a great tool for anyone who wishes to spread the word of the work of Lifelites with any interested parties at home or at work. The Lifelites team will use the video wherever they are invited to do their own presentations about the charity. DVD copies are available on request from This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Published in Lifelites
Friday, 05 June 2015 01:00

Almoner support for seniors

Reach out

With 2.9 million older people feeling they have no one to turn to for help and support, Aileen Scoular meets Dame Esther Rantzen DBE and Provincial Grand Almoner Ernie Greenhalgh to find out how Freemasons are making a difference in West Lancashire

 No one wants to feel alone. But for the 11 million people in the UK aged 65 and over, loneliness and isolation are all too familiar. A survey by Age UK has revealed that one in four older people feel that they have no one to go to for help and support. 

Contact the Elderly, another UK charity that aims to lessen the effects of isolation, echoes these views: other than visits from a carer, around 70 per cent of the elderly people who use its service receive visits just once a week or less.

Yet loneliness and isolation can be avoided. 

A chat on the phone, a cup of tea or a shared joke with a neighbour takes just minutes, but the positive effects of human interaction last long after the conversation ends. The reassuring news is that there are organisations out there making that happen, one of which is the Freemasons.

In West Lancashire, Provincial Grand Almoner Ernie Greenhalgh has spent his first two years in the job making positive changes that will allow his lodge almoners and care officers to spend more time on active care and less time on paperwork. And Ernie has found an equally compassionate ally in Dame Esther Rantzen DBE – founder of ChildLine in 1986 and, more recently, The Silver Line, a telephone helpline for older people. 

Invited by the Province of West Lancashire, Dame Esther visited Ecclesholme, a Royal Masonic Benevolent Institution (RMBI) care home in Manchester, at the end of last year to gain a better understanding of the needs of elderly RMBI residents. Both she and Ernie believe that effective pastoral care can transform people’s lives.

‘A core value among Freemasons has always been to help those less fortunate than yourself. We try to instil that in every single member,’ says Ernie. ‘The role of the almoner is a vital part of lodge life – not just to manage financial needs, but to deal with loneliness and isolation as well.’

Facing reality

Isolation is a topic that also comes up in conversation with Dame Esther, and The Silver Line, which launched at the end of 2013, includes a befriending service to help combat loneliness.  

‘The idea came to me when I was standing at a conference about the elderly, discussing an article I’d written about living alone for the first time, aged 71,’ she explains. ‘I got the most extraordinary flashback to the same situation 30 years before, when I had been talking about another problem with a stigma attached – namely, child abuse. Because no one wants to admit to loneliness, do they? Many older people are very proud and they don’t want to be a burden.’

Just 18 months on, The Silver Line is taking up to 1,000 calls a day. The befriending service has a waiting list of 1,000 people, and the charity is training its volunteers (known as Silver Line Friends) at a rate of 100 a week. There’s no doubt in Dame Esther’s mind that her helpline is fulfilling an intrinsic need for many elderly people.

‘Most of our callers tell us they have no one else they can talk to,’ she says sadly. ‘One Christmas, I spoke to a caller and he said it was the first time in years that he had talked to someone on Christmas Day. Many elderly people can go for a couple of weeks without having a proper conversation. It can happen to anyone – there are a lot of intelligent, interesting people who find themselves isolated.’

Isolating the problem

Loneliness is normally caused by loss of some kind – a partner, a job, or someone’s sight, hearing or mobility, for example. Becoming a carer to a loved one can also bring on intense feelings of isolation. It’s a familiar topic for Ernie’s care team in the Province of West Lancashire, where the widows of the brethren are key beneficiaries, particularly in times of sickness and financial hardship. The support is there when it’s needed, and Ernie has a loyal group of almoners with a compassionate ear.

Almoner Danny Parks, 76, and Regional Care Officer George Seddon, 73, have experienced personal loss themselves and can empathise with the feelings of despair that follow. ‘An almoner needs to be caring, considerate, diplomatic and sympathetic – all of that comes into it,’ says Danny. ‘I get a lot of satisfaction out of helping people. I lost my wife and there’s nothing worse than the loneliness. It’s a dreadful thing and some people can cope with it, and some can’t.’ 

Danny has great faith in face-to-face contact and he diligently visits the 15 widows in his care on a fortnightly basis. ‘You have to get out of the house and meet people – that’s when you find out what help they really need,’ he explains. ‘Their problems might only be small, but they’re still problems.’

George agrees: ‘There are many people in need but they’re too proud to ask. My mum was 99 when she died so I’ve been able to draw on my own experience. You need to be understanding and able to find solutions where you can. It’s all about gaining people’s confidence and developing trust.’

Almoner Alan Whitehouse, 70, believes talking is crucial: ‘Some of the people we visit have seen no one for weeks. They have probably outlived their friends and peers, which is very sad.’ Alan uses his homemade jams and chutneys as a ‘door-opener’ and makes sure he’s always available on the other end of the phone. All three men praise the changes that Ernie has made to the structure of the West Lancashire Provincial care team. 

Getting out and about

For Ernie, it’s vital that the members and widows of the Province are aware of the support available. ‘It’s not always easy to identify exactly who needs help – particularly when elderly people are reluctant to ask for it,’ he explains. ‘So I’m trying to enable the almoners to spend more time delivering pastoral care, and less time doing admin.’

Believing that there is still much work to be done when it comes to helping older people, some of Ernie’s team are also becoming Silver Line Friends. George was the first to sign up and is currently being trained by the charity. ‘It’s a good transfer of skills and experience, and the training they offer is excellent,’ he says.

Dame Esther hopes that other Freemasons will consider volunteering, too. ‘Being a Silver Line Friend only takes an hour a week,’ she says. ‘You can do it from your own home and we provide all the training. If you enjoy having conversations with other people, do visit our website to apply.’

Thanks to Ernie, George, Alan and Danny, and all the other almoners across West Lancashire Province, the older community is in safe hands. According to George, ‘The role of the almoner is the most rewarding job in Freemasonry.’

The Silver Line is a free, confidential service: 0800 4 70 80 90, www.thesilverline.org.uk 

Published in Features

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