A CHARITY close to the hearts of all its volunteers is celebrating an important milestone.
Contact 88, a transport service for the elderly and disabled living in Chichester, is marking its 25th anniversary year.
Founded by Bernard Charles in 1988, the charity has more than 20 drivers and escorts who are on hand to assist groups enjoying a day out.
As part of the celebrations, drivers and helpers, patron Patricia Routledge and mayor of Chichester Alan Chaplin gathered together in Lavant Memorial Hall on Thursday evening.
“This evening gives me the first opportunity to thank a really fantastic group of volunteers for the time they have given,” said Mr Charles.
“They get a lot of satisfaction and a lot of pleasure from helping.
“I started the charity when I was 56 and I’m now 83. Having had the back-up of all these wonderful volunteers who are so committed, I have now felt able to withdraw. I see the buses bombing around town and it is really good.”
Mr Charles has even started going on some of the outings, to get to know the people who use the service.
Alan Williams, chairman of Contact 88, has volunteered since he retired 14 years ago.
“Most people joined the charity to be helpful in the community,” he said.
“Transport is a problem for people who are elderly and disabled, but a more important aspect of what we do is bringing people together.
“It gets people out of their homes – people who otherwise might not be able to.”
The charity organises outings to the seaside, pub lunches, stately homes and gardens and garden centres, picking up people from their homes and dropping them home. The charity even provides the minibuses for disability groups in Chichester which do not have transport.
Patricia Routledge said it was a ‘great honour’ to be patron of the charity.
“It was a marvellous idea and as you can see it has wonderful people and great supporters,” she said.
“It means a lot to a great many people and to have it organised by people who actually care and are sensitive – that’s even better.
“I’m very pleased to be associated with Contact 88, and here we are 25 years later.
“I think we are a great nation for volunteering.”
Derek Clarke, who lives in Tangmere, became a driver for Contact 88 when it first started. He is still driving minibuses now.
“People get used to a driver,” he said. “They can talk to you and I really enjoy it – I know they do, too.
“It really puts things into perspective as well, you hope if you ever end up housebound, people will be there for you, too.”
Contact 88 is looking for new drivers to be able to offer a full programme of events.