The long winter nights and cold weather can make it difficult for even the most able bodied among us to get out and about. For some people, the arrival of winter can be particularly isolating.

The Harrogate Easier Living Project (HELP) is a local charity helping to keep older people, those living with long term illness and disability or living rurally, to remain connected with their communities throughout the year.

Volunteer car drivers with HELP’s ‘Driving Force’ service provide door-to-door transport to those limited by mobility and/or location to get to appointments, make essential trips and attend community based activities. Established in September 2015, the 35 volunteer drivers offer over 2,000 trips each year to passengers who may otherwise struggle to make these journeys independently.

Apart from helping passengers get from A to B, drivers assist people to maintain their ties with the local community. Passengers also welcome seeing a friendly, familiar face on a regular basis. Knaresborough based volunteer driver, Charlie Thorburn, is one of the drivers assisting passengers to attend day centres every week, as well as helping them to get to medical appointments and make other essential trips, such as shopping and banking.

Having taken early retirement, Charlie found himself with some spare time on his hands and wanted to give something back to his local community. As well as providing a vital service, he believes volunteer driving is hugely rewarding for volunteers as well. “You meet some amazing people who really appreciate what you are doing for them. Many of the “clients” become much more than that and really look forward to seeing you.”

Since April last year volunteers with ‘Driving Force’ have clocked up an incredible 14,500 miles taking local people to get to where they need to be. As demand for the voluntary car driving service continues to grow, the service is now appealing for more volunteer drivers, especially in the Knaresborough area.

The volunteer appeal is being supported by North Yorkshire Councillor for Knaresborough, Bill Hoult, who has granted the charity £460 from his County Councillor Locality Budget. This will assist the charity with the costs associated with volunteer recruitment, induction and training.

Councillor Hoult said: “I am more than happy to allocate my funds to such a good cause. The real heroes however are people like Charlie who are prepared to give up their time to help those less able to get out and about.”

The service is keen to hear from any local people who like driving and getting out and about locally. Volunteer drivers are reimbursed £0.45 towards their vehicle’s running expenses and training is provided.

Charlie continued: “I really like the flexibility of volunteer driving. I was looking for something where I could decide on a week to week basis if and when I was available. Volunteering with ‘Driving Force’ has been ideal, I can pick and choose which journeys I do and also change the days I am available.”

Anyone wishing to find out more about volunteering with the service is urged to contact Christine Turner, Service Co-ordinator, or 01423 813090