‘Vital’ volunteer car scheme helps hundreds of vulnerable people from Seaford to Saltdean access jabs
When the pandemic hit last year, mobile hairdresser Sarah Lowton from Newhaven found herself unable to work and at ‘a bit of a loose end’.
She was already doing what she could to help her elderly clients, checking up on them regularly and picking up prescriptions.
When she heard that the volunteer car scheme Havens Community Cars was looking for drivers, she realised she could contribute to the national effort to beat the virus by taking them to get vaccinated.
In April alone, volunteers helped ferry 108 people who are not able to use public transport to their jab appointments.
Sarah said the elderly people she picked up in her car were ‘so grateful’. “They’re so pleased to see you,” she said.
“Some of them probably should have had the vaccine given to them at home. Lots are in the nineties, one lady was in a wheelchair.
“A lot of them hadn’t left the house for any other reason, and they were really quite nervous.
“I think it helped because they knew me, it helped them feel a bit more confident in going out.”
Far from being just a taxi ride, Sarah would chat to the clients and even go and sit with them with while they got their jabs done to keep them company.
“They didn’t feel like they were doing it completely on their own,” she said.
Even though Sarah is now back at work, she is continuing to volunteer with the group in her spare time. “It makes me feel I’m doing something worthwhile,” she said.
Before the UK’s vaccine programme was even launched, Paula Woolven, chairman Of The Board Of Trustees at Havens Community Cars, was concerned about how people in the coastal towns would access the vaccine.
“I kept asking the question, where are the vaccine centres going to be? How do people get there? I never got an answer,” she said.
Havens Community Cars was officially launched in September last year after Paula noticed a large demand for community transport in the area.
Designed to help people attend medical appointments or social groups, it would soon become vital to the vaccination drive.
In January, it was announced that people living between Seaford and Saltdean would need to travel to a centre in Eastbourne or in Brighton for their jab.
Paula said: “I still can’t get my head around it. We decided we could do what we could to help.”
A massive recruitment effort was launched, boosting the number of volunteer drivers from 10 to 25.
“So many people from the community came forward and said, let’s get people there to save their lives,” Paula said.
Volunteers use their own vehicles to transport people to the centres and are reimbursed for petrol.
Clients are charged around £10 for a return journey – much less than the cost of a taxi.
Paula also set up a fundraising page ‘Fuel Injection’ earlier this year to subsidise the cost of a journey for those that cannot afford to pay.
Within a week, it had raised £1,200, thanks to people being ‘so generous’.
And since the end of March, the NHS has also been contributing funding towards journeys for jabs.
The service has been busy all year so far, but last month was particularly manic, said Paula, as second doses were delivered and more routine medical care started to take place again.
“Some drivers were going out several times a day,” she said. “We need to get people back to their medical appointments as soon as possible. We don’t want missed appointments, wasted appointments.”
Paula said the care shown by the volunteer drivers was ‘incredible’.
“All our drivers are local and they care so much about providing this vital service,” she said.
Going forward, the scheme will keep transporting to people for their jabs and to medical appointments of all kinds, as well as helping them readjust to the ‘return to normal’.
“The mental health impact of people coming to terms with life going back to normal is going to be massive,” Paula said.
“You can’t repeatedly tell people the world is dangerous, then lift the lid off and expect everyone to be OK with that.”
Find out more about the scheme or volunteer to be a driver by visiting the website here.