Thursday, 20 June 2024
UK Charity Week 2024 - Sponsored by Sinclair Method UK
Thursday, 20 June 2024

Shortage of volunteer drivers has devastating impact on blind and deaf people in Aberdeen

A charity that supports blind and deaf people in Aberdeen has issued a plea for volunteer drivers amid fears a current shortage is worsening problems with isolation.

North East Sensory Services (NESS) runs a series of social groups at its centre on John Street.

Members meet weekly for social activities with teas and coffees and games of scrabble, bingo and bowling.

However, the charity is struggling to find the required number of volunteers to pick up and drop off service users before and after the group meetings.

It means elderly people who are blind, deaf, or have sight and hearing loss – some of the most isolated in the community already – are left housebound as they are unable to attend activities.

Service user Linda Reid, 75, is partially sighted and struggles to walk after having a knee operation. Linda goes to the NESS group for the over 65s on Tuesday afternoons in Aberdeen.

She said:

“I enjoy the over 65s group on a Tuesday – it’s a lifeline. We would have tea, coffee and games of scrabble. If it’s someone’s birthday we would have cake too. I’m turning 76 soon and I am looking forward to cake on my birthday. I can’t get out anywhere. I am disabled and I’m completely reliant on people taking me out. If a driver is not available then we all miss out. The drivers are good fun too, sometimes they would stay for the social and join in with us before taking us home.”

NESS currently has seven volunteer drivers in Aberdeen but needs a further six. A range of factors has caused the shortage, which is also affecting its services in Dundee, Angus and Moray, including the Covid pandemic and the retirement age increasing so people who may have been able to help are working longer.

Volunteer Jenny Coleman, 70, said:

“I have been driving for NESS for 10 years and three months. It involves going into people’s houses, taking them into the car, then driving down to NESS and home again after the meeting. Exactly what is needed depends on the person – some are more independent, and others need more help. I live just outside Aberdeen, in Blackburn, and drive in once a week, sometimes twice, to help. With the driver shortage right now, if a driver is sick, it means they would have to cancel the afternoon, and the service users are left at their homes.

“The service users like getting out of the house for a change of scenery, to meet friends and to ensure they aren’t housebound. Being a driver, I have a sense of unexpected satisfaction in helping service users. It never crossed my mind when I started volunteering for NESS that driving would be one of the things that were needed and how important it was to the service users who rely on NESS. As a driver and volunteer, I enjoy the experience, the company, and the variety of people I meet as it is not always the same people every week. I and a lot of the drivers like to help at the meetings because it’s a nice, friendly time. I never thought I would enjoy driving.”

Sheila Ogden, volunteer coordinator in Aberdeen for NESS, said:

“Volunteer drivers are needed now more than ever post-pandemic. Without the drivers, our service users are housebound and feel vulnerable and isolated. We see how much the services we offer positively affect our users, so for them to miss out because of a shortage of drivers is devastating. Our drivers enjoy helping out and we pay for fuel expenses. If you’re considering being a driver with NESS in Aberdeen, I would encourage you to get in touch and more information will be provided.”

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