Alton Community Care (ACC) is a registered charity providing transport to medical appointments for the people of Alton and nearby communities.
Established in 1975, the charity was originally involved in all aspects of providing support to those in need such as transporting, visiting, shopping, housework and handyman assistance.
However, over the years the demand for transport gradually became the dominant feature such that by 2000 this became the sole focus of activity.
ACC completes about 2,500 journeys annually, ranging in distance from local health centres and dentists in Alton to hospitals in London, Oxford, Salisbury, Southampton, Andover, Portsmouth and Winchester.
Appointments at the North Hampshire Hospital at Basingstoke account for the majority of hospital trips, and the eye department at Frimley Park Hospital is another regular destination. If the appointment is expected to take more than about four hours, then a double journey will be arranged.
For shorter periods the driver will wait and then make the return journey. ACC does not charge a fare for this service. Instead, passengers are invited to make a donation to help meet expenses.
In some cases, passengers are unable to afford anything, and that is quite understood.
Volunteer to drive
All ACC members are volunteers, either as drivers or as co-ordinators who have the task of matching up demand to drivers.
Drivers use their own cars and can choose the days and times when they are available, as well as the destinations they are prepared to cover.
Drivers can claim the HMRC rate of 45p per mile as well as incidental expenses.
Volunteer to organise
Co-ordinators work from home and can expect a busy day of duty, taking calls from many people requesting transport, and then trying to find drivers to take on the task.
This can frequently be a challenge. While our computer system will identify who is available to drive on any given day, the destination must be taken into account, and size of car can also be significant if wheelchairs and rollators need to be carried.
A particular challenge was the Covid vaccination programme, when Alton people had to make the 35-mile round trip to Basingstoke instead of having a vaccination centre in the town.
With reduced number of drivers through medical vulnerability and self-isolation, and with only one passenger allowed per car, ACC resources were very stretched with some drivers doing the journey two or even three times a day.
Beyond the immediate benefits from this voluntary work, driving can often be a rewarding experience.
Bill Griffin, chairman of ACC, said: “I often drive for elderly clients who have spent all their lives in Alton and have fascinating stories to tell about the town in wartime and the decades since.
“I remember in particular an old lady in her 90s who had been born in The Eight Bells pub where her father was the manager!
“We sometimes drive people who are clearly lonely and really enjoy a good chat during the journey. It all adds to the enjoyment and satisfaction of this voluntary activity.”
At the last count ACC has 41 active drivers, and nine co-ordinators (five of whom also drive) but more are always needed. Co-ordinators hate having to turn people away because there simply are not enough drivers.
If you would like to help, please telephone the duty co-ordinator in working hours on 01420 541520.