The Shaftesbury Couple Offering Lifts To Tackle Social Isolation

Car Link, Shaftesbury’s dial-a-ride scheme, has expanded during 2019 under the stewardship of a local couple who took on this vital, voluntary service. Keri Jones found out more.

Alfred has featured many Shaftesbury people who give up their time to serve our community. June and Martin Hull are arguably two of our town’s most selfless residents. They spend their days and nights arranging lifts for elderly and less-mobile locals who would otherwise face rural isolation.

Martin appreciates how his Car Link service makes a difference to residents who could otherwise find themselves stuck at home. “The smile meets you at the door, and they just enjoy coming for the ride, to get out from their four walls,” explained Martin.

June and Martin Hull

When I praised the pair’s generosity, June explained that they wanted to ‘payback’ the support they had received during their own challenging and difficult times. “I think that stems from our history. Both myself and Martin lost our first partners due to cancer. Martin’s youngest son is an absolute delight. He has Down’s syndrome. I’ve just lost my father, but Martin’s father is in the Cedars nursing home. So we’ve always given. It’s just something natural that we do. We get so much enjoyment out of it,” said June.

The Hulls took over the reins of Car Link from the previous coordinator in November 2018. “Debbie Simmons, who used to run it, had a lot of other projects on and was finding it difficult to manage. We were already volunteer drivers,” explained June.

Debbie was running the service single-handedly. Martin and June are a couple, so they have been able to double the amount of effort going into encouraging new users. “Before, it was run only for medical purposes. We’ve now expanded it because there are an awful lot of people who were isolated and who need to do simple things like go shopping or meet with friends. We’ve now bridged that gap and we’re now doing over 200 trips a month,” said June.

Martin and June are now volunteering for longer hours themselves. “We have a regular lady who needs to meet with friends, but because they work, she can only meet with them in the evenings. Two evenings a week we pick her up. She lives just outside Semley. We bring her up into Shaftesbury to meet with her friends and take her back home about nine o’clock,” said June.

“Last year, on Christmas Eve, we picked up a lady at six in the morning, because she had to be up at Salisbury Hospital at seven. We came back, had a bit of tea and toast and then drove a lady up to Woking to stay with her brother over Christmas. We are working on Saturdays, Sundays and anytime of the day or night if the need is there.”

Debbie, who had operated Car Link for four years, told ThisIsAlfred that it had overtaken her life. June has had a similar experience. “To a degree. I work as well. I’m a relief library assistant. Even when we go away, just for a couple of days, we have to take the diary and the phone with us.”

The couple need more helpers behind the wheel. “We’ve taken on more drivers. They’re only volunteers so they work when they want. Our job is to allocate the trip to the driver, which is getting quite a headache because we could do with some more drivers,” said Martin.

The success of Carl Link requires this small, local, not-for-profit group to now apply for official charity status. “We are going to have to become a registered charity, there is no doubt about that. We’ve now reached the threshold for funding,” said June. She added that the organisation needs to recruit volunteers with specific skills.

“We need help with administration. We need a treasurer, trustees and anybody who would be interested in managing the website and setting up our social media, Twitter and Facebook, and managing that on our behalf,” said June.

Martin was leaning on Car Link’s Citroën Berlingo people carrier as we chatted. The vehicle was sporting the Car Link livery and the well-known disabled-friendly logo. Martin explained how this new accessible vehicle, which has a wheelchair ramp, has made a difference to many of the service’s users.

“We got this in January. 50% of the nursing home people are in wheelchairs. They said, ‘We’d love you to help us but we want a wheelchair vehicle’. So, as we were new at the time, we went out and purchased this ourselves. It’s really took off. It has a swing-out front seat, for people that can’t bend their legs very well. The seat comes out to meet them, and then takes them back in. They all think it’s a great laugh. It is like a fair ride to them.”

I was surprised to hear that the couple purchased this vehicle for their voluntary work at their own expense. “There was no funding at the time. We are gradually paying ourselves back, as and when the funds become available. Me and June, we think alike. Once we started having a lot of clients come to us, we knew that it just had to keep going.”

The couple hopes they will be awarded funding soon, so they are not out-of-pocket for much longer. Car Link is a Shaftesbury Carnival beneficiary. Martin and June will be participating but won’t spoil their planned parade surprise – you’ll have to watch out for them on Saturday.

They have had to take on some tasks in order to be considered for Carnival cash. “It means that we have taken on a lot more work at the same time. At the moment, we’re busy polishing masses of silver cups at home in the evenings. My intention is to ask the Postcode Lottery to support us as well,” said June.

With the recent changes, June was keen to offer more information on Car Link’s unique service. “Anybody is eligible. We will take children, accompanied by adults, right up to the very old and very infirm. There are no age restrictions. We want to help everybody. There’s a £5 joining on fee that helps with our funding. The passenger pays the driver 50p a mile – that’s from the driver’s home to pick the passenger up and take them to their destination. For all of the short journeys in and around Shaftesbury, there’s a minimum charge of £3. On average, from Shaftesbury to Salisbury Hospital, it’s between £22 and £25, depending on where the driver lives. All the waiting time is free of charge. We will wait for up to three hours.”

With Car Link’s expansion and popularity, Martin and June haven’t received negative comments from professional drivers. “Particularly during this school term times, the taxi drivers have such a level of commitment to the schoolchildren that they have very little time to help those people on short trips to the Medical Centre. I think that we’re complementing each other,” said June.

And she’s clear that Car Link differs from a cab company. “We do not do airports and we do not do seaports. We are not a taxi service. Taxis are there to fulfil those roles and they need to make a living and we appreciate that.”

Despite Car Link’s growth, Martin says the operation has no plans to expand into other parts of Dorset or Wiltshire. “This is primarily for Shaftesbury and the surrounding villages. We’re staying local because we help want to help locally,” said Martin.

You can find out more about joining Car Link, so you can arrange lifts, by calling or emailing June and Martin. “All they need to do is phone us on 07763 426664 or they can contact us by email at Shaftesburycarlink@gmail.com,” said June.

“We have both been too successful,” June added, with pride. “All the old ladies love Martin. He is very happy-go-lucky. We have a really good laugh with our people. Often they are laughing so much on the phone they can’t talk anymore. That’s what we’re about. We want to bring a bit of joy into people’s lives while helping them at the same time.”

As Martin headed off on another pick-up, he explained how Car Link offer much more than affordable and reliable lifts. “We want them to come out and enjoy themselves – go and have your hair done and really enjoy life.”