Local Volunteer Drivers' Scheme
Feedback from the community revealed that local public transport services were not reliable and older people were missing hospital appointments and missing out on accessing critical appointments such at local GPs, hospitals and other care centres. For people wholly dependent on public services - especially if they live in a rural location, or are unable to walk for long distances or who don’t have family or friends nearby - this is a very isolating position to be in, and makes them feel vulnerable and unsupported, as well as alone.
In line with similar schemes that have already been established around the UK, a Rochdale Volunteer Drivers’ Service was launched. The facility provides door to door service in a vehicle that can accommodate walking aides and wheelchairs. Using their own cars, approximately 40 volunteer drivers transport older people to and from various different functions and appointments – this can be anything from a medical appointment to a visit to friends or to trips to the dentist or hairdressers. Volunteering is completely flexible and based around the availability of the volunteer.
The service can be used for regular or one off journeys for any reason at all - everything from social events to medical appointments. The annual membership subscription is £15 – plus, for each journey booked, a mileage contribution of 45p per mile is charged to cover the drivers’ petrol, insurance and car maintenance costs. (The drivers don’t get paid for their time, this is donated voluntarily.) Accompanying carers are able to travel at no extra cost.
There have been a number of practical and psychological benefits to the day to day lives of both the volunteer drivers and the service users.
From a user’s perspective, older people can be confident in the knowledge that they can book a friendly and affordable transport service any time they need to leave the house. Often they get to know their drivers by their first names and look forward to enjoying regular chats while travelling.
Quote from a service user: “Getting out and about using, safe and affordable transport means I can stay active and independent, even though I am no longer able to drive myself.”
Drivers also benefit from a deep sense of purpose and fulfillment as a result of donating their time to help local people get around their daily errands and appointments without having to worry about transport problems.
Quote from a volunteer driver: “It is such an enjoyable experience to drive people and assist them with their journey, you soon begin to realise that not only are you providing such a valuable service to the customer, they also really appreciate the company you give them on their journey.”
Discussions among participants suggested that all of them experienced the ability to make their own transport arrangements as empowering
Feedback from people who regularly use the service strongly indicates that it is not just the ability to get from A to B that matters, but the way in which the journey is experienced. So a friendly, familiar driver who can transform the trip into a relaxing, social experience is a much appreciated element of the service.
People also said they found the option of planning and booking their own very travel arrangements very empowering. This is because they see the ability to travel as the key to independence, as well improving confidence and self esteem and increased integration into the wider community.
In 2015, the scheme won the Queen's Award for Voluntary Service. It continues to go from strength and its design continues to be influenced by the experiences and feedback of the people who use it.