Simon, like many of our volunteers, started volunteering during the COVID pandemic when he helped at a vaccination centre. He has since become a volunteer driver and what came across from my chat with Simon is his great enthusiasm for the work. This is perhaps a little surprising because he didn’t plan to become a driver! He explained “I rather fell into this! I didn’t go looking for a driving job. Someone at Communities 1st suggested I might give it a go and I found that it suits me very well.
"It's my way of giving something back."
Simon Angel, in his mid-sixties, has worked as an IT consultant for over thirty years. He recently moved to Bushey Heath and before that he lived in London Colney. He took time out to care for his wife who sadly died three years ago following a struggle against cancer. Simon is keenly aware of the help that he and his wife received from the NHS, the hospice, and the community. This experience has encouraged him to help. “I like to help.” he commented, “It is a nice thing to do and it fits it in with the rest of my life.”
A Cuppa in the café... sorting out the shopping bags
There is a routine to Simon’s volunteering. He is given a list of five or six people to collect; he picks up the minibus and then drives round to pick up the passengers. He will help them on to the bus, sometimes using the tail lift. And then it is off to the supermarket either in London Colney or in Watford. Simon agrees with his passengers how long they will have to shop – usually 1-2 hours – and they agree to meet in the café afterwards. They might have a cup of tea or coffee. The return home then commences. Sorting out the shopping bags, helping people out of the bus, and sometimes taking them to their home
A bit of banter
Simon admits that he is gregarious and that he likes to engage with the passengers. He explained “I’ve got to know the passengers and they know me. There’s usually a bit of banter. We will talk about anything – football, how they are, their families. They will talk amongst themselves. Everyone is very good humoured and light-hearted. They seem to really enjoy their trip out – the journey and the cuppa is just as important as the shopping.”
Simon feels that that the service is important. “About ninety percent of the people I’m giving lifts to can’t get out into the community. They couldn’t do without the service. It not only helps them do their shopping, but it provides social contact. They couldn’t do without it.”
I think Simon is a vital part of the service and because of him it works. I found him easy to talk to and I can see that he would establish a good rapport with his passengers. He told me that he “always looks for the upside in everything.”
It seems clear that Simon enjoys his volunteering, so much so that he plans to do an ambulance driving course. His contribution is also valued. He told me that sometimes his passengers will insist that they buy him a coffee. He also told me how chuffed he was when quite unsolicited a woman stopped him and thanked him for what he does. She said
"thank you for all you do. It has made a world of difference to my mother."
I asked Simon what he does in his free time. With two children and four grandchildren, his family is important. I was also amused to learn that he sings in a rock and roll band! That shouldn’t have surprised me, and it may explain how he once tried to get his passengers to sing “The wheels on the bus go round and round.” They would have none of it and told him where he could get off! Perhaps not a wise thing to say to your driver.
Written by Chris Cloke