A decade ago, David Lamb was just finishing a few months’ temporary work for the Census, after 30 years running a small domiciliary care service with his wife in the Bridport area of Dorset.
Looking around for something new to occupy his time, he answered an advert for a community transport driver’s role with Dorset Community Transport (DCT) “and to my amazement I got the job”, he reports.
Joining in October 2011, the initial position was for a Relief/Cover driver but it didn’t take DCT long to realise that in David, they had found a star driver in the making: “I was asked if I would like a permanent role,” David reports. “Then I was asked if I would take on a run to a special needs school – and I’ve been doing that ever since.”
“I had intended to take a year off but I’ve been here for more than nine years now – I’m probably one of the oldest drivers they’ve got,” he chuckles.
“To be honest I never realised when I started with DCT that I would get so much satisfaction out of taking children with special needs to school and back and making sure they are safe and happy,” David admits. “It’s a different world altogether than mainstream schools. You obviously have to work as a team with your passenger assistant but we have very good working relationships,” he says.
Like everybody, David and the DCT team have had to adapt their work and services during the Covid situation. Before the pandemic, David’s bus took children from their homes to two different schools located close to one another. Once the restrictions hit it became a single-school operation only, but because some of the young passengers were considered vulnerable and others were the children of key workers, DCT kept services running even during the school holidays.
David reflects that doing a school bus run might “sound like quite a menial sort of task”. But the opportunity to support children with special needs is clearly something that gives him a great deal of satisfaction. “You are working with different children and getting them to respond well to you can be a challenge at times. When that happens you really feel a sense of progress,” he says.
“You see them every school day – they look forward to the little green bus parking outside, and the parents do too because they know their children are safe and will be looked after well. It’s quite a lively sort of bus that we have because the passenger assistant engages them with various activities like singing and it does make the journey go well.”
David has particular words of praise for his colleague and DCC passenger assistant Vicky Budden. “She has been working in the care world for quite some time, up until a couple of years ago, mainly with adults, elderly people. She does some volunteering work in between her bus duties and she is absolutely brilliant with the children – she engages with them very well,” he says.
“I love to hear them behind me all singing various nursery rhymes and they look out for certain things on the route all the time as well as the different farms we pass.”
David also feels well supported by DCT’s operations team. “Things have become more difficult during Covid but they are always at the end of a phone or an email. DCT are a very good operation to work for – we get good support and they let you know what’s happening and keep you up-to-date with the various things you have to do,” he says.
Before the lockdowns, recalls David, three or four of the drivers would go and meet up for a coffee on Fridays after the morning run – “But that’s been knocked on the head just at the moment!” However, DCT General Manager Tim Christian has been going out regularly to check in with drivers and make sure they are ok.
“Tim comes out on a fairly regular basis,” says David. “When the whole Covid thing started up Tim checked with me if I was prepared to carry on working as older people are more vulnerable to Covid. “But knowing the route, the passenger assistant and the parents, and the way things happen, I haven’t felt at risk at all as far as Covid is concerned,” David says.
Asked how he feels about the idea of being seen as a ‘hidden hero’, David is typically modest: “I hope I am doing something for the community but I am not very good at blowing my own trumpet,” he says. “To be honest I am quite surprised at the way that people do thank you for making sure that everything is ok. I am just doing a job which I get a certain amount of satisfaction out of.
“There’s quite a few little green buses around Dorset now – I think people are getting to know there is community transport available to them to help them when they need it and hopefully that will continue,” he adds. “If I am told for any reason that I need to give it up then so be it – but providing I am fit and healthy and I am safe driving the bus then I am happy to carry on!”