Jean Huish, 75, from Easton has lived in Norfolk for 40 years. After her husband passed away 12 years ago, a friend told her that she needed to do something to get her out of the house. Jean heard information on the radio about local volunteering opportunities and decided to get in touch.
“They offered me two interviews, one with a charity shop and the other to be a volunteer driver,” Jean said. “I got both and thought, I’ll try them out – and I’m still doing both of them.”
Jean volunteers for Transport Plus, a community transport service provided by Norfolk County Council, between Monday and Thursday each week. Using her own car, she drives people with mobility problems who can’t use or don’t have access to public transport to GP, hospital and dentist appointments and, where possible, to go shopping and other activities.
“The amount I work for Transport Plus varies, some days I might have nothing, most days it’s a couple of hours. They email me and I do try to do it whenever I can,” Jean continued.
“Quite a lot of my clients are regulars who ask for me, which is nice. I have one lady on a very regular basis, a couple of times a week, but most of them ring up whenever they need to go to the hospital or doctor and they ask if I’m free.”
Jean is very aware that being a volunteer driver is beneficial to both the people she transports and herself. “Lots of the people I drive become like friends to me. I went to one lady’s 90th birthday party a couple of Sundays ago. A lot of them, like me, wouldn’t see anyone all day otherwise.”
One of the people Jean regularly drives to appointments is Susan from Norwich. Susan said: “Transport Plus is a lifeline for me. If I didn’t have a driver I wouldn’t be able to go out or have any fresh air. I can just phone up and know I don’t have to worry about my appointments. The drivers are always very friendly and helpful.”
A shortage of volunteer drivers means that Jean has been busier than usual recently, and sometimes Transport Plus and other community transport services in Norfolk can’t meet the existing demand.
Currently, many more men than women volunteer to be drivers, but Jean only has praise for the role and would encourage more people to consider it. “I’ve always driven, I enjoy it, it gives me freedom. And I enjoy meeting people. If you’re like me and you can talk for England, get on and do it!”
To become a volunteer driver for Transport Plus you need your own roadworthy car, a valid driver’s licence, some spare time most weeks and to be confident in making local journeys to areas you may not know. Drivers are generally given a patch in which they operate that isn’t too far from their home, and as requests for transport are made, Transport Plus will contact drivers by phone or email to check their availability.
While volunteers aren’t paid for their time, the client pays the driver for their costs at the recommended national mileage rate of 45p a mile which allows for wear and tear to the car.
Jean said: “I’m lucky, I can afford a car but it’s nice to have a little bit extra towards the upkeep and the petrol, and it gives me something to do and I’m helping people.”