ECT Charity is on a mission to end loneliness and isolation.
We do this by 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.
Every year, Ealing’s Salvation Army aims to tackle loneliness by hosting a Christmas lunch for vulnerable or isolated members of the local community.
On 25th December 2018, Ealing’s Salvation Army welcomed 65 guests and volunteers to enjoy a morning of games and mince pies, followed by a full Christmas lunch and ending with a viewing of the Queen’s speech.
Ealing Community Transport (ECT) has been providing transport for these lunches for many years. This time, an ECT minibus driven by volunteer Linda Bridges, enabled 14 guests who struggle with mobility to attend on Christmas Day.
Today’s Journey Makers story comes from Sarah Oliver, an Ealing Salvation Army officer. She explains how Christmas Day can be extremely lonely for many people, and why the partnership with ECT is so important to the Salvation Army and its volunteers:
“In my role as a Salvation Army officer, I meet people at our groups, such as our Lunch Club for over-55s, who are isolated all year round. However, I think their loneliness is particularly heightened at Christmas: people are more aware that they are on their own and unable to celebrate Christmas the way that they used to when they were younger. It is a time when we are all told to spend time with family and the people that we love, so it emphasises the isolation that people are in.
“The Christmas lunch was run for many years by a lady called Cynthia Alleeson, who also worked as a driver for ECT. Sadly, she passed away just before Christmas last year, so my husband and I have now taken on the role of organising of the lunch.
“It’s a big operation. On Christmas Eve, volunteers come to do all of the preparation, including peeling the vegetables and preparing the turkeys. Then on Christmas Day, we arrive at 8.30am to get the oven on and start preparing for the guests who arrive at 10.30am.
“When I eventually get a chance to sit down and talk to the guests, I can see that all of the hard work has been worth it, because many of them tell me that otherwise they would be on their own with just a sandwich.
“An ECT minibus brought around 14 guests this year. We completely rely on the service, because without it the guests who need assistance getting in and out of vehicles would not have been able to attend at all. We can provide transport for some of the guests, but others require specialist accessible vehicles, which is something we don’t have.
“We get a number of messages and cards afterwards from people who are just so grateful for the Christmas lunch. And this year one guest told me: ‘I have had more conversation today than I have had all week,’ while another said that they ‘couldn’t think of a nicer place to spend Christmas Day’.
“Our volunteers are often very grateful for the experience as well, as, without it, many would be on their own at Christmas too. They come back year after year, and just want to give back.”
Linda Bridges, the ECT driver who provided this year’s door-to-door transport for the lunch said “I really enjoy the day, especially seeing how happy it makes my passengers. Everyone is so grateful, without the transport they would have been at home alone. And I get to see my grandchildren before and after.”
Do you know someone who needs help getting around? Find out more about Ealing Community Transport here.