Driven to help the elderly

Behind the wheel ... Graham Robertson, left, aged 85, David Barbour, 67, and John Stopford, 92, drive the elderly to appointments through the group Amberley Community Care. PHOTO: ROBYN BRISTOW


John Stopford and Graham Robertson have clocked up hundreds of miles helping the Amberley and Leithfield communities.

John, aged 92, and Graham 85, have been driving fellow citizens to appointments as far away as Christchurch for decades.

They are members of Amberley Community Care. Their time is all voluntary, they pay their own running costs, use their own vehicles, and do it because they love helping their communities and meeting people.

When they are not driving, they are often seen delivering a recliner chair or electric bed into a home to help a patient.

Their load has been lightened in recent times with the arrival of David Barbour, 67, but it appears the brakes are not going to be applied anytime soon by John and Graham in volunteering their time.

When they are not lending a hand to their community, every Monday the pair climb aboard their quad bikes, along with other members of Shells Angels, and head to a beach or river for an afternoon of discovery.

John, Graham and David are three of a small team at Amberley Community Care, a volunteer not-for-profit group set up in 1976. Its focus is providing support for the elderly in the Amberley and Leithfield areas to enable them to stay in their own home. It grew from small beginnings – concern over the welfare of a neighbour and meals being offered to help out.

From this small gesture Meals on Wheels were nurtured, a door-to-door transport service to medical appointments launched, along with short or long-term loan of equipment such as electric beds, wheelchairs, recliner chairs, walking frames and other equipment.

John has been a driver and in charge of medical equipment for years. How many he is not sure. But Graham tells him he became secretary of the society in 1975. Graham came on board in the 1990s.

“We take people to medical appointments in Christchurch Public, Burwood and Princess Margaret Hospitals and places in between,” says John.

Graham says at times he can be away from home for nine hours if someone requires day surgery. In the “old days” they used to be able to sit in their cars at Christchurch Hospital and wait. Now, they have favourite places to visit while waiting to uplift each patient to return home, made so much easier with cellphones.

“You have to have the patience of Job. I know every waiting room in public and every magazine they have,” John says. “It is like life. Sometimes you are as busy as hell. Sometimes not.

“Older people find going to a hospital appointment stressful. If they come with us, we take all that away. We get them there on time, they are picked up immediately afterwards and dropped off back to their home. And it is a confidential service. Privacy is paramount,” John says.

The proliferation of orange cones and changing routes have not worried either John or Graham since the earthquakes.

“We do it all the time so it doesn’t bother us,” they say.

David retired to Rangiora, but arrived in Amberley after wanting to find a smaller town to settle in with his partner. “My ambition was always to give back to the community on my retirement,” he says.

“It is a great way to meet people, and tremendously satisfying to help people in need. The communication back from these people about how appreciative they are of the service we provide is the reward for me,” he says.

David is keen to ensure more people in the area know about the service and is looking at ways of delivering contact details to mailboxes.

It can be a nightmare for older people trying to get to appointments. Some are quite capable of driving in the city, but choose service because there is no parking hassle and it is affordable.

The service costs $30 for a round trip to Christchurch and it costs no more for a support person to come along. Shorter trips to Kaiapoi, Rangiora and Pegasus cost $20, and locally it is $5 to $10.

All services are available by phoning 022 276209, which is also printed in the local Amberley footwearSneakers