ECT Charity is on a mission to end loneliness and isolation.
We do this
We do thisby enabling those who are unable to access mainstream transport to venture out of their homes: whether for a shopping trip or doctor’s appointment, or an excursion to the seaside.
There are lots of people who work hard to make these journeys possible. Our Journey Makers series shines a light on them – from our well-trained, caring drivers to the community members who organise transport for local groups.
Like the elves in Santa’s workshop, Dorset Community Transport’s drivers have been hard at work this December. From lunches held at social clubs and golf clubs, to pantomimes in Yeovil and Weymouth, our drivers have been transporting passengers to over 14 different festive destinations across the region.
The outings enabled passengers – many of whom struggle with mobility and have little or no access to public transport – to leave their homes and experience some Christmas magic this December.
This week’s Journey Makers are our DCT drivers. We spoke to some of them after their trips to hear what it is like to be a driver during the festive period.
Louis became a DCT driver earlier this year. He had retired from the fire service and was in search of a way to continue being useful to his community. The best part of his job, he says, is helping to keep those who live in rural and isolated areas of Dorset connected, many of whom he says are very lonely.
This December, he took passengers to Winchester’s Christmas Market, as well as trips to two different garden centres hosting festive displays.
Louis told us: “The groups have great fun on the trips, and they always come back jolly. At this time of year the garden centres are very Christmassy: there are lights, decorations and even singing reindeer. Many of the passengers are lonely, so sometimes the best part of the day for them is just having a cup of tea with friends.
“Where we live is very rural. There are two buses through town but nothing through the villages. Nothing at all. There’s lots of social isolation and loneliness, because even if people can drive, they are nervous about doing so.
“I love living in a rural place, but there is a serious downside to it when you get older. Young families often move to urban areas where there are more job opportunities than in rural places like this. This means that their older relatives can’t get out and about without the support of organisations like DCT.
After taking a year’s break from work and travelling to New Zealand, Alan felt he had more to give, but did not want to go back to his career in retail. He decided to become a driver for DCT, a job which he has now had for four years, and says is made especially enjoyable thanks to being part of a “great team”.
This winter, Alan took passengers to several festive destinations, such as Galton Garden Centre in Owermoigne, a pantomime in Weymouth and an East Stour pub for Christmas dinner. He even drove a group of school children to a nursing home in Spetisbury where they sang for residents.
“You get to know the passengers very well, and there are some real characters. It’s fun hearing where people have come from. Today, I met a lady whose husband was a British ambassador and she has lived everywhere from Venezuela to Peru. People relate to me as a son, and we love sharing stories. One group has even invited me to join their Christmas dinner this afternoon to thank me for driving them this year!
“Dorset is very rural. We don’t have trains, and now we don’t even have buses. So community transport is an absolute lifeline for most of our passengers. There is a scheme called Bus2Go that links up lonely people with each other and encourages them to get out on bus trips – we have been providing the transport for that too.”
These days, Jeffrey works in the DCT office helping with the organisation of these trips, but he still occasionally drives, and this year took passengers out to the pantomime. He told us:
“It was wonderful taking a group to the panto this year, and to see people out with their friends. Everyone was really excited.
“Although I work in the office now, I still help out with driving when I can because I enjoy meeting people, and it gives me a great sense of satisfaction to be able to help. The predominant message we get from passengers is that they are so grateful.”
Rodney applied to work for DCT a few years ago because he always enjoyed driving and liked interacting with both older and younger people. This December, he took a group out to a Christmas lunch hosted at Stewarts Garden Centre in Christchurch.
Rodney said: “The group I took to Christmas lunch this year live in self-contained little flats adjoining each other. They meet up for their meals and have a warden that keeps an eye on things.
“They’re a jovial bunch, and I take them out about once a month or so. This year they enjoyed their trip out to lunch, and all said how good the food was. They also managed to pop across the road for some shopping at the supermarket, which gave them a chance to buy some festive knick-knacks.
“The best feedback I have ever had was from the organiser at a care home who said that because I had been so kind to the residents, they would ask for me to be their driver again! I don’t usually tell people these sorts of things, but that was a good feeling.”
After injuring his back, Simon was forced to end his career in gardening and forestry. Luckily, he could still drive, and he applied for a job at DCT earlier this year because he enjoys meeting people of all ages.
This winter, Simon drove to two separate festive events: he took a group of children with special educational needs from Mountjoy School to a carol service, and he took passengers to a Christmas party organised by a charity supporting disabled people in Dorchester.
He said: “It’s nice to feel like you’re giving back to the community, and I enjoy meeting different groups of people from across the region. The Christmas party I drove to this year was packed, and everyone seemed to really enjoy themselves. The children at the carol service also had a wonderful time.
“If it weren’t for DCT, I don’t know what our passengers would do. Public bus services in Dorset are being cut left, right and centre, so people have no other way of getting out.”
Kevin has been a DCT driver for six years, a role which he decided to take on to keep him active after retiring from his previous career. This year, he drove two different groups to Winchester Christmas Market.
He said: “Yesterday we took two buses to the market, and there were 29 of us in the end. Some people come back with lots of packages and others with nothing, but for most people it’s just a chance to get out.
“I recently found out that one of the ladies in the group hadn’t been out of the house for two and a half years after becoming partially sighted and losing her confidence. However, she started coming out with a social group that regularly uses DCT, and it’s remarkable to see her transformation from someone who wouldn’t say boo to a goose, to joining
in with all of the chat.
“It is very rewarding to see older people enjoying themselves, and everyone is always very thankful when they get off the bus.”
For more information on the services we provide in Dorset, please click here.