A LETTER from lonely pensioner Irene Newington touched the heart of Esther Rantzen so much the TV presenter turned up on her doorstep.
Esther, who recently founded The Silver Line charity, took an hour out of her very busy schedule to spend time at the 80-year-old’s home in Blackburn.
And speaking exclusively to the Lancashire Telegraph, she said: “It was an extremely moving letter.
“I was moved by her courage and by the fact that she had the determination to reach out for help from others, including me.”
Mrs Newington, who lost her husband a year ago today and is almost blind due to a degenerative eye condition, had told the star how she felt lonely, isolated and depressed.
The kind-hearted celebrity, along with the helpline’s chief executive Sophie Andrews, had a cup of tea with Mrs Newington, helping to ‘shine some light’ into her life.
Mrs Newington, who has no children, said she wrote to the celebrity after hearing about the new Silver Line charity she had set up.
She said: “I just told her how I was feeling and what my situation was.
“I was in a very dark place and I just told her I had heard about The Silver Line and asked if she would be able to talk to me and help me in some way.
“She called me up to say she was going to a conference in Manchester so could she stop off for a cup of tea on the way.
“We talked about everything that has happened to me. I get so lonely and I have nobody to fall back on.
“She was lonely herself when her husband died so she knew what I had gone through.”
Esther, best known for presenting long-running BBC show That’s Life, said Mrs Newington’s letter had really struck a chord with her.
She said: “Her husband had died and she was almost blind and was deeply frightened and living alone in the home she had shared with her husband.
“We had tea with her, which was lovely, and discussed what she needs.”
Esther said Mrs Newington had forgotten how much she still had to offer.
She said: “As we were leaving she showed us some books and she had some craft magazines and there were some paintings she had done.
“She was really brilliant with her hands and she said she was still painting at classes in Blackburn.
“We asked her if she would like to do some cards for The Silver Line and she designed our Christmas card and has done some others, including one with a dove on that I really like.
“She had almost forgotten her own talents.
“People forget how skilled they are and, as a nation, we dismiss people who have so much to offer simply because they are over 60.”
Esther said as well as setting up Mrs Newington with a ‘Silver Line Friend’, who calls once a week to offer a listening ear, they were also looking into helping her move.
She said: “Irene desperately needs more appropriate and safe accommodation.
“Unfortunately there is a shortage of sheltered housing for people like Irene in this country.
“She has lived in Blackburn all her life and doesn’t want to leave, but we are trying to find some sheltered housing where there are other people around to offer companionship.”
Mrs Newington has lived in The Evergreens for three decades and had been married to Derek for 52 years before his death at Royal Blackburn Hospital.
The former primary school teacher, who worked at Shadsworth Primary, St Stephen’s in Blackburn and Lower Darwen Primary, has one brother who lives in Spalding, Lincolnshire, who is in a wheelchair.
She said: “For many months now I have been in a dark place.
“Since my husband died I have been isolated and alone. It is so hard to bear.
“My lack of sight means I cannot do what I used to. It is just painful but I have to get used to being alone.”
Mrs Newington said she did get some help from community centres in the area.
She said: “I go to painting classes at Greenfield Community Centre and Mill Hill Community Centre.
“I used to be better at painting but now I cannot do very much. I just splash about but I enjoy doing that.
“I had been dreading being alone on Christmas Day, then a woman from Ivy Street Community Centre rang me and said I could go there.
“She came and picked me up and I spent the day there and was able to meet some strangers.
“Then a woman from Abbeyfield in Accrington rang and said I could go there for Boxing Day.
“She picked me up and took me over. I went there on New Year’s Day as well.
“Out of the darkness these strangers came to shine a light into a very dark place.
“They were all so very kind to me and they really do make a difference.”
Mrs Newington said she would like to hear from other people in her position who were looking for companionship.
She said: “Perhaps other people in my situation would like to get together, have a chat, have a coffee and make life more meaningful.
“There must be hundreds like me but I never meet anyone.”
To speak to somebody from The Silver Line, call 0800 4708090.