Driver behind 'lifeline service'

Joanne Ross


Joanne Ross


Kilkeel has its own “angel” in the form of Anne McArdle.

Anne has earned the nickname after spending her retirement volunteering as a driver for what is considered a “lifeline” service for isolated, older people living in Mourne.

The MourneHome2Hospital scheme sees volunteer drivers taking elderly Mourne residents to hospital appointments.

But Anne says that the service, which celebrated its 1000th journey last week, is a lot more than just a transport service.

When she first retired from her job in the Civil Service several years ago, she thought retirement was great.

“However, I then started thinking what did I retire for?” said Anne.

It was then that she saw a project advertised by SPACE which included driving voluntarily around South Down and Armagh areas. As she “loves driving”, Anne says she was interested right away.

When funding ran out for that service, Anne began to volunteer as a driver for the MourneHome2Hospital scheme.

That was three years ago and Anne has not looked back.

“It is a brilliant service. So many of the users say they do not know what they would do if they didn’t have it.”

When speaking to The Outlook, Anne had returned home around 3.30pm, having left her house at 8.15am.

The area she covers runs from Killowen to Ballagh taking people to hospital appointments in Belfast, South Tyrone, Lagan Valley, Downe, Craigavon or Daisy Hill Hospitals.

“I had a wee lady who was spending £90 on a taxi to take her to the Royal from her home in Warrenpoint. Lately I have been taking a man for treatment who told me that he used to drive his car to Newcastle then get a bus to the Europa where he would get a taxi to the City Hospital for his treatment then the same journey back.

“It took him about eight or nine hours. That would be stressful enough for anyone in one day so he is very grateful of this service. When he started using this service, he was so happy.”

Anne said her volunteer work means she is “getting to meet new people and hear their wee stories about their life, whether good or bad”.

“People confide in you and with my background in benefits, I would always refer them to Citizens’ Advice if I thought they were entitled to more help.”

Ann said the service has a social element.

“When we take them to the appointment we would sometimes wait with them but some of them like you to go in with them. One man wanted me to go to his appointment to take notes of what he was being told so he could then let others know when he got home.

“Other times they will ask you if they could stop at a shop on the way home so they could grab some groceries or ask you if you would like a wee cup of tea.

“I absolutely love it,” said Anne, who said the service currently has funding until the end of March 2019.

The scheme is funded by Newry, Mourne and Down District Council and is facilitated by SPACE, Newry.

SPACE say there are 174 registered users and over the last quarter (April to June 2018) there were 193 trips recorded.

In total, the service has seven volunteer driver however if anyone is interested they can get in touch with Rebekah at SPACE on 028 3083 5764.

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