Sidmouth transport charity appeals for more car drivers - ‘we can always do more’

Staff and volunteers at Sidmouth Voluntary Services, which is appealing for more car drivers

Staff and volunteers at Sidmouth Voluntary Services, which is appealing for more car drivers - Credit: Archant

A Sid Valley transport charity is appealing for more volunteer car drivers after it was unable to get 50 people to health appointments last year.

Sidmouth Voluntary Services (SVS) is under pressure from both ends, with an ageing population increasing demand and a shortage of ambulances. Its 15 car drivers donated 2,400 hours of their time to get more than 1,000 people to medical and hospital appointments last year, but bosses say they can always do more.

Manager Claire McHugh said: “It’s frustrating when we have to turn people away – we feel like we’re letting them down. They would’ve had to get a private taxi or rearrange their appointments.

“Public transport isn’t really accessible, so they come to us. Our volunteers use their own cars to take people door to door.

“We’re open every morning. People ring in to organise transport and we coordinate it here at Twyford House. The cars take people to the Beacon Medical Centre, the hospital, the RD&E, all over East Devon and further away.

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“We’ve lost a couple of car drivers, so want to get the message out and ask people to volunteer.”

Transport coordinator Sarah Clements said the shortage of NHS ambulances means SVS is ‘almost like an emergency service’. She added: “People are always so grateful. They always say what a wonderful service we provide. It’s all down to the drivers, especially the ones able to step in at the last minute.”

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Drivers are often needed at short notice because of when appointments become available, and because people get discharged from hospital without ambulances available to take them home.

Sarah said there had been a 15 per cent increase in demand for health journeys in the last year, and a 110 per cent increase in the need for wheelchair-accessible vehicles.

Volunteer Tim Swarbrick said: “The ambulance service is under increasing pressure but there’s also an increasing number of elderly people who need hospital appointments – there’s pressure at both ends.

“SVS is a very worthwhile cause to volunteer for. It’s about helping the community and giving something back. People haven’t always got relatives or friends who can help, and ambulances are under such great pressure they can’t drop people back at home so our car drivers step in.

“You meet some interesting people and they are always so appreciative of the efforts we make. I wish we could do more.”

The charity also has three minibuses that pick people up for a lunch club every weekday and take people shopping and on monthly outings.

Tim, one of the minibus drivers, added: “The lunch club is great, especially for people who are isolated. It gets them out of the house – they go for a drive, meet people they know, have a meal and then get dropped off at home. It’s all about keeping them in touch.”

Mike Sellick started driving his car for SVS in 2002 after retiring to Sidford and getting bored. After his mother died, his wife Pat found that she signed up with the charity as well. The couple now drive for SVS separately most weekdays.

Mike said: “I said I was going to have 12 months off when I retired, but I happened to walk past Twyford House one day and there was a sign up asking for more drivers. I’ve been doing it ever since.”

Pat added: “We help out as much as we can – you never know what help you might need in the future. You meet some lovely people. If you can give just a little bit of time it would make a lot of difference.”

To find out more about volunteering, call the SVS transport office on 01395 512221.

For more on the lunch club or to book, call the kitchen on 01395 515063.

Alternatively, email

There is a small charge for the lunch club and for the car service.

Volunteer drivers use their own cars and are paid for their mileage.

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