At the bottom of Fore Hill in Ely, tucked away in a back corner office is a life changing community scheme that many people don’t know even exists.
The East Cambs Social Car Scheme provides door to door transport to people in Ely and the surrounding villages who are unable to access public transport. This may be because they have difficulties with mobility, or because of a lack of other transport options. The service helps people to remain independent, and provides an opportunity for them to interact on a social level.
The scheme is run by volunteers, from the administrators who man the phones and match drivers to clients, to the drivers who provide their time and their own cars. Typically, trips are requested for medical appointments and shopping trips, but may also be to visit relatives in hospital or care homes, or to access clubs, day centres and other social activities.
Passengers are asked to make a contribution of 35p per mile towards the cost of their journey, with a minimum contribution of £5. This covers the petrol costs from the driver’s home and back again, and the scheme administrators always try to find drivers who live closest, to keep costs to a minimum. (From 01/01/15 this will rise to 40p per mile and £6 minimum contribution.)
Pensioner Barbara Whitby has been using the car scheme for several years. She says “I’m really pleased with the service, it is a load off my mind. I can’t drive now and have no other transport so this is the only way I can get to the hospital to visit my husband.” Over the years Barbara and her husband have met several drivers and she says “They’re all very nice. Everybody is always very helpful and kind. We couldn’t do without it.”
The scheme couldn’t exist without the local people who provide their cars and themselves. These volunteer drivers do it for a variety of reasons.
Keith Dorling has been a volunteer driver with the scheme for 11 years. He says “When my wife had cancer, she had such wonderful treatment and was so well looked after that it made me think. That was when I decided to put something back. So when I retired, I volunteered as a driver. I think people shouldn’t just take all the time, it’s about putting back as well. That’s why I do what I do.”
Dave Ashton volunteered almost by accident. “Having recently retired, I was walking up Forehill in Ely one day and noticed the Volunteer Centre. Interested to know more, I went in and came out having joined the Social Car Scheme as a Volunteer Driver. The scheme allows me to do something I enjoy, which is drive, and at the same time allows me to give something back to the community.”
It is not just the clients who benefit from the scheme. Lisa Czarnobaj explains. Our mum has been needing more and more help and support, and we all work. Just to take mum to an Ely appointment is 2 hours out of my working day, and I have to go in really early or work really late to catch up, which affects the rest of the family. We were cautious when she first started using the service, we really need to trust people with our mum, but mum couldn’t be happier, she loves every single one of the drivers and enthuses about how nice they are. For us, trust is the biggest part of the service and we trust our mum with the drivers. It is a fantastic, valuable service.
Demand for the service is steadily increasing, and Manager of the Volunteer Bureau, Granville Hawkes says “We always need more volunteers.” Highlighting some of the issues he explains “We have an ageing population where people are living longer, often alone and more independently. Increasing numbers of older people are experiencing financial difficulties. Public transport is being cut and what’s left is more expensive, particularly in rural areas. There is less carer support as more cuts are made to social services. And alongside these issues, the increasing level of rules and regulations make voluntary services like this difficult to run and expensive to maintain.”
Despite these issues, The East Cambs Social Car Scheme continues to run successfully, providing a vital service to our community and changing many lives. Appointments are kept, people are helped to remain independent for longer, families rest easy, and long lasting friendships are made.
If you would like to volunteer, or want to know more about the car scheme, you can contact Ely & District Volunteer Centre, 41 Forehill Ely Cambs CB7 4AA Telephone: 01353 666556