When retired foundry worker Hugh Hamilton Brown received the dreaded news that he had prostate cancer in 2013, he wondered how he would manage to attend regular appointments at the Beatson Cancer Centre near Glasgow.
The answer came when the 64-year-old from High Bonnybridge read a notice in his local doctor’s surgery.
It was for The Driving Force, a charity based in Bonnybridge Health Centre, which offers free transport to and from appointments for cancer patients.
“I signed up, and, within a day and a half, they had called me back and arranged to come round and see me,” he said.
“I was struck by how efficient everything was. A man called Roy, who I’m still friendly with, arranged all my appointments.
“They took me door-to-door. I can’t begin to describe how much they helped me.”
Our drivers ‘know the ropes’ and provide valuable company and reassurance. We try to make the experience as pleasant and stress-free as possibleDr Bridget McAllister
Hugh, who is now in remission, couldn’t be fuller with his praise for the charity – which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year.
The Driving Force was established in 2005 by Dr Bridget McAllister, a GP based at Bonnybridge Health Centre.
“I heard of a scheme in Lanarkshire where cancer patients had a free, personal service to take them to cancer appointments,” she told The Falkirk Herald.
“I felt that this type of service would be very helpful in my area, as hospital transport takes many patients in the same vehicle – making the journey long and slow. People have to wait until everyone has been seen before going home, and can be out of their home most of the day at a time when they are unwell.
“There is not always room for a friend, or relative, to go with them.”
Dr McAllister explained that setting up such a charity in Bonnybridge was a time-consuming, but relatively simple, process.
A group of volunteers met for the first time in April 2005. The next nine months was spent applying for grants, arranging disclosures and training volunteers, before in January 2006 The Driving Force took its first patient to hospital.
In January 2008, it had sufficient volunteers and funds to expand to the neighbouring town of Denny.
The Driving Force aims are simple – but they require a deceptive amount of organisation and a dedicated team of volunteers to implement.
It takes anyone who has cancer and registered with a GP in Bonnybridge or Denny to hospital treatment sessions or appointments for free.
Patients are collected from their homes, driven straight to the hospital and brought straight home – and there’s space for a friend or relative to accompany them if they wish.
“We have tried to make our service as easy to use as possible,” explained Dr McAllister.
“On receiving their appointment people contact their doctor’s reception, and leave their name and phone number. A co-ordinator contacts the surgeries daily – to collect everyone’s details. They phone the patient and find out the appointment times and any special requirements. Next they find a driver for each journey.
“People who travel with us have a much faster and more comfortable journey, can go home as soon as they are ready and can take someone with them. Our drivers ‘know the ropes’ and provide valuable company and reassurance. We try to make the experience as pleasant and stress-free as possible.”
Chairman Roy Wardlaw – the man who visited Hugh two years ago – decided to volunteer along with wife Rita after being impressed by Dr McAllister’s vision for what the charity could achieve.
“On retiring I found that I had a lot of time that I could offer a worthwhile cause,” he said.
To date The Driving Force has made more than 6900 journeys and driven 559 people over 332,000 miles. It’s an achievement that’s not gone unnoticed.
Last year, actor and ‘Taggart’ star Alex Norton joined Roy to film a typical day in the life of the charity for the STV series ‘Scotland’s Real Heroes’. Following a public vote, The Driving Force was subsequently named ‘community project of the year’ at a ceremony in Glasgow.
Dr McAllister and Roy joined drivers Ian Cameron and David McMillan to receive the award from actor Bill Paterson.
It helped raise The Driving Force’s profile. But as more request its services, more volunteers are required to meet demand and more funds are needed.
“We are completely self-funding at present,” added Dr McAllister.
“Our income comes from donations from patients, and other local people, and businesses, and from fundraising events.
“We are constantly amazed by the generosity of the people of Denny and Bonnybridge; we feel this is partly due to the fact that we are a very local charity which has touched many lives.”
The Driving Force can be contacted by calling (01324) 812315 or visiting www.bdfthedrivingforce.org.uk.