Imagine being able to see the bus stop and buses driving by your window every day – but you can’t use them.
You might have a bus pass or be entitled to concessionary travel but you are still virtually a prisoner in your own home.
Sound far-fetched? Sadly, it’s far from it. This scenario is played out in homes across the Forth Valley area, every single day of the week.
For many people, taxis are too expensive to use regularly as a means just to get out of the house.
So what’s the alternative? For the last 31 years, Dial A Journey has been a phone call away, acting as a lifeline to the many thousands of people who have relied on it.
Funded by the three local councils in its operational area – Falkirk, Stirling and Clackmannanshire – Dial A Journey is also supported by international charity, the Order of Malta.
But it would be fair to say the last few years have been a bumpy road for the door-to-door minibus service.
From its heyday when it boasted 70 members of staff and 40 minibuses, there are now 32 members of staff and just 20 vehicles.
The advent of online shopping has undoubtedly taken its toll, but so too have council cutbacks.
In 2016, Falkirk Council reduced the service from seven to five days a week – a two-year deal agreed in December that year.
But Dial A Journey’s chief executive Duncan Hearsum and fundraising officer Julie Christie are not content to see services eroded further.
So they are now looking at ways to adapt and develop what they already offer.
Duncan said: “We have a conventional minibus which anyone with a licence can drive. We now hire that out to other groups – FDAMH and a church ramblers group in Falkirk use it regularly.
“But we’d like to develop that service more so we could base one of our minibuses in the town permanently for other groups to use.
“We’re also looking at running a pilot project, enlisting volunteer helpers to go out with our clients.
“At the moment, we take people from their homes to their destination and back.
“Our drivers are superb – it’s more than an A to B service they provide.
“They go the extra mile to make sure our clients get a home to home service, making sure they are back in the house safe and sound.
“But they also build up a rapport with passengers so it becomes more than just a journey for them.
“However, it would be fantastic to give people the option of someone accompanying them when they’re out.
“Our service gives people an opportunity to get out of their four walls but it would be nice to do even more.”
It’s an understandable desire when you consider that Dial A Journey is often used as a last resort – when there’s no alternative.
Duncan explained: “I could give you countless examples but one couple’s story really stuck with me.
“The man’s wife had cancer and, as well as being in a wheelchair, she had to use an oxygen tank.
“They could see the bus stop from their house and buses passing every day – but they couldn’t use them.
“Living in a remote Falkirk village meant taxi journeys were expensive.
“So without Dial A Journey they would have been stuck in the house.
“This is by no means an isolated example. We hear stories like it all the time.
“There are more than 300 people in Falkirk who regularly use our service – it’s a lifeline for many of them.”
But it’s no longer just individuals who call on the service – care homes are a growing client-base too.
Duncan said: “We work with Grangemouth Community Care and Carrondale Nursing Home two to three times a week.
“We take their clients out for wee excursions to garden centres or shows. It’s easier than hiring a minibus and finding their own driver.
“We also run our own school holiday excursions every year – taking clients to the likes of Anstruther, Largs and Peebles for the day.”
In 2017, Dial A Journey provided 16,193 trips across Forth Valley, 12,160 school journeys for children with mobility difficulties and transported 2155 people to hospital. Its popular Shopmobility scheme in Callendar Square also saw 5000 scooter hires.
And it offered minibus hire and provided training for some 40 organisations.
So while times have changed, it is still in demand.
Duncan dded: “We have been so busy getting on with the job – we need to bang our drum a wee bit more!”
For more information, call 01786 465355 or email duncan@dial-a- journey.org.
Having a ball for good causes
Dial a Journey Trust exists to provide accessible transport and associated services across the Forth Valley area for people with mobility problems and those who have difficulty using public transport.
It is supported in this work by the Order of Malta, a charity which has been supporting those in need worldwide for nearly 1000 years by responding to natural disasters, epidemics and wars.
Today it employs around 25,000 doctors, nurses, auxiliaries and paramedics, supported by 80,000 volunteers around the world.
In Scotland, its flagship service is the Dial a Journey Trust – providing practical and financial help since the charity was founded 31 years ago.
While receiving financial support from the three local authorities to provide a door to door service, in order to provide additional services such as extending the normal
operating hours and offering day trips and excursions, Dial a Journey Trust needs to raise additional funding.
So, for the last 15 years, the Order of Malta has held an annual fundraising ball. This year, it will be held at the Sheraton Hotel in Edinburgh on April 14. Dial a Journey is one of the main beneficiaries.
Julie Christie, fundraising officer, said: “Local businesses and organisations throughout Forth Valley have helped to provide some amazing and memorable auction lots for the online silent auction and the main auction on the night.
“We are very grateful for their continued support.”
To take part in the silent auction, you can register, view and bid for the auction lots on the website www.orderofmaltaball.com.
Or to donate an auction lot, contact Julie Christie on 01786 465355 or email email@example.com.