04:00AM, Sunday 13 April 2014
THE Royal Borough mobility service and charity People to Places is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. It provides transport for groups, shopmobility, home-to-school transport, dial-a-ride services and its drivers ferry about 177 people every day of the year. Reporter Katherine Denham joined one of its dial-a-ride buses to see what makes the service so special for the people who use it.
Having not quite mastered the art of driving yet, I’m accustomed to buses.
But an hour spent in a People to Places minibus was a bus journey unlike any I have experienced before.
Struck by the liveliness of the driver who jumped out to greet me, 40-year-old Tay Adham from Taplow could put chatty man Alan Carr to shame.
He has been working for the charity for two years and has seen first-hand how beneficial the service is to those who have mobility problems.
"People are very grateful for the service," he said.
"A lot of people say if it wasn’t for us then they would really struggle."
Once I had inelegantly clambered into one of the four seats – and thanks to Tay avoided bumping my head on the door frame - I peered around to see bundles of space for wheelchair users.
I got buckled in and we set off towards our first destination while I quizzed easy-talker Tay about his job.
Our first stop was Bourne End Garden Centre in Hedsor Road to pick up John Davies and his wife Margaret.
We pulled up near the entrance and Tay leaped out and disappeared inside the building.
He reappeared minutes later cradling a box containing various flowers and plants, including a purple orchid that towered above his head.
At first I wondered if he had just popped in to purchase a posy of flowers until I spotted the elderly couple following behind.
John, 73, uses an electric wheelchair after suffering a stroke six years ago.
Margaret, 69, tells me it is her and John's 38th wedding anniversary and they had indulged in a celebratory breakfast at the centre.
"Every time I do something with John we use People to Places," she said.
"The service is absolutely vital to us.
"We go to a stroke club at SportsAble which uses these buses to transport a lot of people.
"Recently we used a taxi and the driver wanted to charge £20 for the whole journey which I felt was extortionate."
We soon stopped outside their home in Switchback Road North and Tay lowers chirpy-faced John down in the disability lift from the back of the bus.
After we had said our farewells, congratulated the couple on their 38 years of marriage and John had joyfully beeped the bicycle horn attached to his wheelchair, we continued our journey to destination number two, Marks & Spencer in Maidenhead High Street.
Here we met Priscilla Rogers who was waiting outside the back of the store with her hands full of shopping bags.
Tay lowers the step to help her into the vehicle.
The 71-year-old customer from Strande Park in Cookham tells me she has a crumbling back and arthritis in her hips which makes mobility difficult.
"A few months ago I needed to go to the opticians and none of my neighbours could take me so I was lucky to be able to use this service.
"I'm not keen on asking my neighbours because it's not always convenient for them, and once they had to take the day off work to drive me somewhere.
"Using this service gives me more independence."
We drive around Strande Park and stop outside Priscilla’s house. Tay helps her and her shopping bags off the vehicle and we wave her goodbye.
I hop back inside the bus and on the way back to the office Tay tells me about a frail 97-year-old woman who had needed to lean on his arm to help her onto the vehicle.
Many of the older people, he tells me, enjoy having a good conversation with him.
It becomes clear to me how important it is for the users of this service that the driver is more than just a driver, but is also a friendly face and a helping hand.
You can tell Tay is in his element.
"This job is enjoyable and quite straightforward really," he says.
"But I have three young kids and compared to them everything else seems a lot easier," he laughed.
I couldn't help thinking that it is only because of the enthusiasm of the volunteers and employees of People to Places that make the charity work as well as it does.
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