Driving volunteers set for royal appointment

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A PEEBLESSHIRE charity which stepped in to cover for inadequate public transport to ensure its isolated residents had access to essential health services will receive the prestigious Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service at a ceremony next month.

It will be presented to Fiona Henderson, co-ordinator of Upper Tweeddale Community and Red Cross Drivers, in Broughton Village Hall on Friday, September 2.

The award, considered the equivalent of the MBE for community groups, will be presented by Lord Lieutenant Captain David Younger, Her Majesty’s official representative in Tweeddale.

“We are one of only three groups in the Borders to receive this award this year, out of just 13 recipients from across Scotland, so we are naturally delighted,” said Mrs Hamilton.

“The Upper Tweeddale Red Cross drivers had been operating before I became the co-ordinator in 1981, with drivers at that time covering Law Hospital in Lanarkshire, Peel Hospital in the Borders and the old Edinburgh Royal Infirmary.

“Due to lack of public transport in the upper Tweed which is not exactly conducive to meeting medical appointments, our committee set up a community car service based on one which had been successfully operating in England.

“This attracted more drivers and we also have the added bonus of farmers’ wives who readily accept early morning duties – providing the sheep calendar is not compromised! Last year the volunteers gave 420 hours to help others.”

Mrs Henderson explained that in recent years a partnership arrangement, involving the Borders Macmillan Centre and the Red Cross, had been put in place whereby the latter provides drivers to help patients meet appointments at the BGH, the new ERI at Little France and, when specialist scanning equipment needs to be accessed, even further afield.

“This door-to-door service has been greatly appreciated by the patients and deemed extremely worthwhile by the drivers,” said Mrs Henderson. “There is no doubt the service helps to take a bit of the stress and strain away from patients during a difficult time.”

Borders Red Cross service manager Lindsay Wilson told us: “Having worked with Fiona and the Red Cross volunteer drivers for a number of years, I am continually humbled by their huge and steadfast commitment to the local community by always being willing to go that extra mile. They are a great bunch and this award is richly deserved.”

Meanwhile, a date has yet to be arranged for Captain Younger to present another Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service to Peebles-based Tweed Wheels which provides volunteer drivers to help passengers in Tweeddale with shopping, visits to family and friends, sightseeing trips and transport to meetings.

Tweed Wheels has been honoured for helping those with physical and learning disabilities access better, more interesting lives.

With about 70 volunteer drivers, the charity carried 3,000 passengers last year, involving 2,600 hours of volunteered driving time.

The award ceremony is being timed to coincide with another milestone for the charity: the arrival of a new £38,000 replacement passenger minibus following a major local fundraising campaign.