Urgent help needed for volunteer driver scheme in South Northants area of Banbury region

Rachel Page shares her experience serving as a driver for Brackley Area Volunteer Car Service in call for more volunteers

Friday, 9th July 2021, 1:23 pm
Updated Friday, 9th July 2021, 1:24 pm
Call for help with the Brackley Area Volunteer Car Service scheme - pictured: one of the programme's longest serving drivers, Wallace Hippolyte, who happened to find himself needing volunteer transport to attend hospital appointments safely.

Rachel Page with the South Northants Volunteer Bureau (snvb) has spent most of the Covid-19 pandemic serving as a driver for Brackley Area Volunteer Car Service due to a shortage of volunteers.

She said: "Due to the pandemic many of our volunteer drivers have decided to retire after many years of service so we have found ourselves in need of more volunteer drivers."

The South Northants Volunteer Bureau (snvb) is looking for people to serve as volunteer drivers. Their volunteer drivers can come from and cover a wide area ranging from Middleton Cheney across to Kings Sutton and Aynho and out to Sulgrave along with Brackley town.

If you love meeting new people, are able to spare a couple of hours a day/week/month and would like to make a positive contribution to your community then please contact [email protected]

Rachel wrote a piece called 'A year in the life of a volunteer driver' and submitted to the Banbury Guardian to give other potential volunteers in the area an idea of what it's like to serve as a volunteer driver.

She said: "Before Covid hit I organised transport for the elderly and vulnerable within my community. I was always in awe of our amazing drivers who would freely give up their time to transport passengers to their medical appointments. I came to learn that appointments weren’t always scheduled between 9am-5pm or between Monday to Friday. Despite this our drivers were never deterred.

"Our drivers are volunteers. They give up their time for free to help those in need.

"Due to a shortage of drivers during Covid I found myself doing most of the journeys and it has been an overwhelming experience.

"I have loved meeting everyone that I have had the pleasure of transporting during the last year. Every single passenger has been so very grateful and many laughs have been had.

"The stories I have heard and the things I have learnt about the lives of so many has been wonderful, and great relationships have been forged, all from just giving someone a lift.

"However, it is obvious that passengers are more anxious now than ever before. They have been safe in their homes, mostly alone without having ventured outside. Hospitals are now sending out appointments, most at short notice.

"Nothing raises the anxiety of an elderly person more than having to go somewhere they perhaps haven’t been before by someone they haven’t seen in a very long time. The truth is the elderly very seldom request the help of friends or family because they don’t want to be a nuisance or because their family no longer live locally.

"Volunteer transport services are being relied upon more and more. The working day is very rarely 9-5.

"Post Covid the working day feels more like 24/7 as we have found ourselves supporting those most vulnerable within our community in any way we can.

"We are not just a car service.

"We are a lifeline to some, being called upon for the easiest of tasks to the more complex ones.

"Reassuring passengers that we are doing the best that we can in these extremely challenging times is as important to us as ensuring they are transported safely and on time.

"Post Covid we have found that hospitals will not allow our passengers to be accompanied by our drivers because they want to keep the number of people entering the hospital to the absolute minimum.

"Whilst this is perfectly understandable it also posed us a problem. Many of our passengers rely upon the driver to escort them to their appointment within the hospital because they have limited mobility or because they are forgetful and could easily get themselves lost.

"Obviously we ensure that these passengers are accompanied whether it be from someone within their support bubble or by one of our drivers. It really is a case of trying to be as supportive as we can whilst ensuring we are keeping those around us safe and limiting the spread of the virus.

"The other problem we have faced is that patients have been required to have two Covid tests before any treatment that could result in an over night stay. With many family members having returned to work this has put extra pressure on ourselves to ensure that they are transported to the hospital to be tested on both occasions before they have even received their treatment. Where previously it would have been a single journey to and from a hospital we are now looking at that having been tripled in most cases.

"Compared to other volunteer car services ours is relatively small. We have over 400 passengers and had over 40 reliable volunteer drivers. We averaged around 50 journeys a week.

"However, since Covid we have lost nearly half of our drivers. Many have moved away or have simply decided to retire after volunteering for many years. We now find ourselves having to fulfil more journeys at short notice with half the amount of drivers.

"I never envisaged myself transporting passengers to and from their medical appointments and the first journey I ever done was met with great anxiety on my part. Within minutes we were laughing and chatting as if we had known each other for years."