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The joys of being a volunteer driver

Unity Andover minibus drivers wanted

A volunteer driver from Andover’s community volunteer organisation Unity has given a very personal account of the benefits of being a volunteer.

Retired banker Sam Otter is a volunteer driver for local charity Unity.  He recently told local radio station 95.9FM Andover Radio why volunteering offers a “great range of personal benefits“.

Unity, whose fleet of minibuses help people of varying abilities get around the Test Valley is currently looking for more volunteer drivers.

Mr Otter is encouraging people to get in contact with the charity as he explained that today he takes people of ages out with great emotional warmth.

He said, “Volunteer drivers do it with humour, with care a forethought and whereas going to the doctors is not quite a day out but we make that trip to the GP as nice as possible, reducing issues of loneliness.  

“But, why can’t we do more?  Well, there are the costs, the facilities, the minibuses and all that, but the big problem is getting drivers.”

Sam Otter Unity Volunteer Driver Andover
Mr Sam Otter

Mr Otter says that recruiting new volunteer drivers is a difficult process as so few people understand the benefits of helping others.

“There are very few of us”, he adds. “We are not just making a difference to older, vulnerable people.  It’s people from all ages and all abilities.  It’s not just old people we need to transport around, next week I am taking a bus of young people down to Devon to plant trees.

“I ask friends why don’t they join me and help out at Unity.  ‘I don’t want the responsibility’ they say. And, these are people who love driving.

“So life is very tough for the existing drivers.  Personally, I am a great beneficiary, when I retired from one of the major banks at Canary Wharf, which was the Mecca of the ‘me first society’, it is not what you might call charitable.  

“When I retired, it was a great shock to me.  As soon as you retire the structure the routine disappears, I really didn’t like it. It was probably going to make me ill.   

“After a while, I began to see there was a world of caring people.  

“Age Concern turned me down because they thought I was ‘too corporate’.  

“However, thanks to initially helping out at Andover and District Mencap, I had some great times spending time with service users.  I saw an old TVCS (now Unity) bus out and about and had a chat with Zoe.” 

Unity Andover

Mr Otter explained the application process with good humour, “When bureaucracy had done its thing. I was on-board.

“I’ve been on some great great trips”, Mr Otter continues, “Last year we went with the Starlight Organisation and we had a fantastic day, climaxed by a flypast by the memorial flight bomber and two fighter jets.  There was then a Red Devils parachute drop. 

“If I hadn’t been out and about as a volunteer driver, I would never had chance to see that.

“In the back we have all these little people and they’re all singing ‘The Wheels on the Bus’, it’s not the most musical accompaniment but it brings a tear to your eyes; hearing all those young voices singing away in the back

“What I get from it is real life experience, lots of wonderful experiences, making people happy.  The repartee is very raucous and occasionally the innuendo takes a bit of following.

“And I’ve even had my bottom patted.  I bent over to pick up a seat belt and one of our ladies took the opportunity.  

“So, I see a lot of enjoyment, a lot of happiness and don’t see my passengers as particularly vulnerable, they use our organisations that Unity supports and that helps give an opportunity to talk, compare their pill regime and generally just have fun.

“Now, in my own life, I get a lot of structure, enjoyment and entertainment.  And you can’t beat that.”

There are nearly 11 million retired people in the UK now and Unity is seeking volunteer drivers to join Sam and have more ‘real life’ experiences.

If you think you might be able to assist Unity with their volunteer driver requirements please contact the organisation on 0330 400 4116 or email for more information.