Local Freemasons have launched a Community Taxibus service for the elderly and infirm in the Gravesend and Medway area. The taxi bus, which is one of East Kent Freemasons’ Tercentenary Community Projects, will provide a much needed service for local residents.
The service will be managed and delivered by volunteers from the Masonic Centre at Wrotham Road, Gravesend. It will operate Monday to Friday between the hours of 08.30 and 17.30 hrs. The vehicle scheduling and client service is managed by a call centre in Braintree Essex.
This is a door-to-door service and can be booked either on line or by telephone. Bookings are made at least 48 hours before the appointment stating the actual time of the appointment and the address. The taxibus will pick the patient up approximately 45 minutes prior to the appointment. Other patients with appointments within the same hour will also be collected.
The service has its own website where patients can register and book journeys: www.gravesendtaxibus.org
How did it come about?
The committee representing lodges and chapters in Gravesend and Rochester (Group 1) were looking for a worthwhile Tercentenary Community Project. They found a gap in the help available for the elderly and infirm when making essential journeys for health needs. Visits to surgeries, clinics, dentists and chiropodists, etc. in Gravesham were not available from the NHS or any other agencies.
It was therefore proposed that a community service minibus would be an excellent asset to the community. After a discussion with Roger Odd, the proposal was put to the Tercentenary Celebrations Committee where it received a ringing endorsement.
The Group 1 committee approached the Cornwallis East Kent Freemasons’ Charity to seek sponsorship which was subsequently approved late last year. A new Ford Transit minibus was obtained from a vehicle leasing company in Wales and was sent to be converted. Hydraulic hoists and side steps were fitted to the vehicle to enable ease of access. Provision was also made to accommodate two wheel chairs in the rear of the vehicle.
Fire extinguishers, first aid and resuscitation equipment were fitted together with an interactive satellite navigation system linked to the call centre in Braintree. A live tracker was also fitted enabling the call centre to see where the vehicle was at any given time. This was fitted so that clients could be advised of any delays or the expected time of arrival.
A newsletter was delivered to every surgery, dentist and clinic in the Gravesham area by hand during January. Calls were soon received from a number of these practices who were interested in finding out more details. In the meantime, the committee began a recruitment drive for volunteer drivers. This had some success and those that came forward were sent on the required training courses with the Community Transport Association: SOVA (Safeguarding of Vunerable Adults), Emergency First Aid and MIDAS, (Minibus Driver Awareness Scheme).
The drivers have all passed their training and the service will be advertised in the local newspapers in mid-May. It is expected to be up-and-running before the end of May.
Reporter: David King
Photos: Richard Wingett