I think Jean has hit the nail on the head. It’s such a simple service on paper, picking people up and taking them home again. Ron says that some people ask why they don’t just get a taxi – but the dial-a-ride service provides so much more than transport. It provides opportunities for people to socialise, feel included in their community, leave the four walls of their home, and maintain some independence at a time in their lives when it can start to disappear; a sentiment that is echoed by all the passengers throughout the day.
“Next stop!” calls Ron, and we are off again.
We’ve finished the first of three drop offs and are on our way back to begin the next passenger pick up. Ron lets slip that after 11 years of volunteering, today is his last shift at DACT. “I think I’ve only told one passenger as I don’t want people to make a fuss,” he says. Famous last words!
Ruby is the last passenger to be collected before the bus makes its way into town. Just as Ron is about to set off, Ruby stands up and makes an announcement; “Ron, a little birdie told me it’s your last day on the bus!” Ron starts to smile. “To say thank you, we’ve done a little collection for you and Eileen’s baked a lemon drizzle cake.” Ron simply replies, “I did say I didn’t want a fuss but who can say no to cake!”
I’m even more pleased when I see a slice heading in my direction.
After a short break, we are back on the bus ready to pick the passengers up from their shopping trip and take them home again. In the distance, we see a long queue of ladies waiting patiently with their shopping bags, flowers, groceries and walkers, chatting away and putting the world to rights.
Bob comments that he remembers how fit he used to feel, having to quickly jump on and off the bus and lift everyone’s bags into the back – “I reckon I could still do this,” he says and I ask if he would ever return. “If I could I would in a heartbeat, but my wife is ill so I’m her full-time carer.”
I’m so pleased that we could give him one day back at DACT for old times’ sake.
The final passenger has waived goodbye and we’re back in the offices. “That was brilliant,” beams Bob. We manage to have a sit down with Rob, DACT’s chief executive, who talks us through the impact of the Masonic Charitable Foundation’s funding on the charity. “The Community Awards was a brilliant initiative which we were so pleased to have been a part of. The £15,000 secured the future of the dial-a-ride service, and we are reminded weekly about how much it’s needed by the number of people that book on the service. We’re just so grateful.”
We say our goodbyes to Ron and the rest of the DACT team, then head off to catch the train back to London.
Before we leave, Bob reflects on his day as a volunteer; “After all these years, it’s so good to see that DACT is still doing its bit to support the community. As a Freemason, I’m so proud that we’ve been able to play a part in tackling loneliness and social isolation. It really is a fantastic thing to be a part of.”
Watch Bob’s day out with DACT in our video series, Helping Hands