Volunteer Focus - David Clark – Volunteer Driver for the home deliveries and Foodbank Volunteer
This is part of a short series of posts to highlight our volunteers and how their roles have changed.
I had not imagined for a moment that, in my eighth decade, I would become a 'white van man'! But that is the direction in which my volunteering with Start Up has taken me. The early months of the pandemic saw a shift in the style of Start Up's provision to its clients and brought the need for an increase in the team of delivery drivers. The two distribution points in Stirling church halls had to be closed and all deliveries to clients were done to their homes by the vans. So, when the first lockdown started to ease, I became a white van man (usually it was the wee silver van, although occasionally I was allowed out with the big Transit). But none of this happened before I had undertaken an assessment of my driving skills, something I last did as a teenager at my driving test away back in the 1960s!
Driving and manoeuvring the vans and finding locations proved challenging at first. There are no internal mirrors of course, and it required quite a rethink of spatial awareness compared with my car! The new van, acquired a month or so ago, has parking sensors. Hurray! Having recently moved to the Stirling area and not having much of a clue where places were or how to get from A to B, my first deliveries took a ridiculously long time, I had to stop and consult the satnav on my phone (none in the vans) for every delivery. It caused Jamie to phone up on one occasion to find out what had happened to me – and his van! But I soon got the hang of it and filed away in my head the street names and layout of the various villages and housing schemes to which I was delivering.
Pre-Covid the practice had been that there were always two people in the van – for company, for a sense of security should that be necessary, and for speed of completing the tasks. The person 'riding shotgun' would do the navigating and would phone ahead to check that the next recipient was at home, give them an ETA and then help to house-spot when at the destination. However, Covid restrictions put paid to drivers being accompanied, unless they were in a family bubble with their companion. Occasionally, when my driving day coincided with my partner's day-off she would join me on the run and it would get done in half the time - though not necessarily without 'animated discussion' about best routes! A typical afternoon run would involve five or six deliveries and for me that usually meant in the 'inner circle' of Stirling towns and villages, from Plean round to Dunblane, as well as many addresses in the likes of Bannockburn, St Ninian's, Raploch and Cornton. On return to the unit the van surfaces had to be wiped down and sanitised ready for the next driver – all of which is necessary but takes time and is a bit of a pain!
Prior to taking on the driving role I had volunteered for a few months at the church halls. Going out in the van gave a new perspective. The contact with clients was necessarily more limited – deliveries were to be handed over on the doorstep (like any other white van man!) and distancing had to be observed. But it did allow me to see and meet clients in their home environment. You can't help noticing the conditions in which people live – sometimes pretty awful and uncared for - and sometimes immaculately kept, often despite all the odds. It served as a timely reminder to me not to make quick assumptions or judgments on our clients, their situations or their lifestyles. The other thing I became aware of is that when you knock on a door you have absolutely no idea what may confront you – and that could have security implications. For me everything went without incident – except for the time when I turned round from a 'no reply' door to find myself ringed by eight police officers in stab vests with five squad cars and two police dogs ranged behind them. But that's a story for another day.....
Now, with the recent return to distribution from two church halls, I have gone on to the reserve list of delivery drivers – but I am still a 'white van man' for a few brief minutes every Tuesday as I help to transport some of the goods from the Springkerse unit to the church hall in Raploch – and back again when the day is done. Lots of table shifting and crate heaving too in the course of those few hours – but it is also great to be able to resume social contact while working with the other volunteers.
A further role I have been asked to take on is to assist in developing good links with some of our supermarkets, without whose interest and generous support Start Up's operations would be very different. Each has its staff member designated as a Community Champion or some such and I try to catch up with them on a monthly basis to learn of any issues or opportunities in our liaison. Most supermarkets have a donations box into which customers give very generously – but the stores themselves also make significant gifts in cash or in kind. I take a monthly 'results report' to each of my stores, detailing how much has been donated and suggesting particular items which we could use. The five I visit are the main Tesco and Sainsbury's stores, Waitrose, Bridge of Allan Co-op and Tesco Dunblane.
Keeping Start Up going and assisting clients during Covid and lockdown has been hugely challenging for staff and volunteers alike. No one has enjoyed all the regulations - sanitising, distancing, mask-wearing, steamed-up specs and lack of social contact as we have gone about the work. But we appear to be getting through it and we may dare to hope that the 'new normal' might not be too much different from the old. But we also remember that for our clients nothing much has changed and, for many, Covid has made life a whole lot tougher still.