Driving that extra mile to help others in need

VASA driver Richard Butt. Photo: Mark Williamson V1/10/19/9431 or 9443

TWO volunteer drivers for a local charity in Stratford have just clocked up half a century on the road between them taking people to important hospital appointments and playing a significant role in the community transport network across the district.

Both Richard Butt and Brian Richardson are drivers for Voluntary Action Stratford-on-Avon District (VASA) and take passengers to medical appointments sometimes hundreds of miles  away from Stratford.

In addition, they take people to GP surgeries, chiropodists, opticians and dentists or to groups and activities to help encourage social inclusion including lunch clubs and transport to day care.

The remarkable thing about the dynamic duo who are typical of the 145 drivers who volunteer for VASA is that at the ages of 85 and 82 respectively it might be more tempting to put the old feet up and enjoy a cuppa rather than be stuck in traffic on the M6 or M1 helping a passenger get to their intended destination.

When Richard Butt from Stratford was asked why he’s been a VASA volunteer driver since October 1989 and about to celebrate his 30th year his reply was straightforward: “Insanity – it runs in the family. I have worked virtually every day of my life, 365 days a year and couldn’t just stop doing something. I was previously head master of River House School in Henley a place for emotional and behavioural disturbed boys and it was the best job in the world. When you actually help  a person manage their special needs and grow into young adults it’s a great feeling. I even got invited to a few weddings by former pupils when they got married.”

The volunteer drivers who use their own vehicles complete 90 journeys a day on average. Some drive to Walsgrave Hospital, Coventry, some to St Cross Hospital, Rugby, some to Liverpool and sometimes Middlesex.

“It’s not like a taxi service and often we’ll wait for two hours at the hospital before taking the passenger home. My oldest passenger is 103 and they are all so grateful for the service we provide,” Richard said.

Another volunteer king of the road is Brian Richardson, who is 83 next month, and also lives in Stratford.

“I started driving over 20 years ago and our passengers so appreciate the work we do. I drove one lady down to Middlesex where they had special scanners and she had to drink some special fluid before the scan could be done. When she’d finished she joked with me that she couldn’t sit next to me in the car on the way home because she was radioactive!” Brian said

There’s a strange coincidence involving Brian and Richard because Brian’s career was also in education in Henley. He taught science and physics at Henley High School just 100 yards away from his fellow driver Richard but that was long before their VASA volunteering began.

Kirsty Holder, VASA charity manager, has nothing but praise for the volunteer drivers.

“Transport is key to Stratford becoming a dementia friendly community. Our dedicated volunteers are able to support those living with dementia, and their carers, by making all of the different groups Stratford has to offer accessible.

Many of our volunteers drivers are already Dementia Friends with more signed up to attend the sessions.

This is a vital service, only made possible thanks to our friendly, dedicated volunteers.”

Anyone interested in becoming a volunteer driver for VASA should contact emma@vasa.org.uk or call 01789 777982