By Ben Bruges

Helen Rudd was hit in the head by a white van and her world disappeared. Emerging from a three-week coma, Helen initially spoke in numbers, then fluent French, which was a surprise, given she hadn’t learned French since school. Maybe, Helen suggests, it’s because her family were descended from Cardinal Richelieu! 

PICTURE: Ben Bruges

The brain can do amazing things but losing five years of memory is traumatic. Helen is left with a balance and spatial awareness problem that means it’s dangerous to take a normal bus. “People can’t see the brain damage, and bus drivers don’t always wait until you are sat down. It really can be quite dangerous. 

Her brain was so shaken up that she got diffuse axonal injury. “I don’t know where my body is in terms of my surroundings,” she explains.

Dial-a-ride bus gives Helen huge independence. It’s the one time she can go to town and meet friends: “It’s been absolutely fantastic. The buddy makes sure I get on, carries my bag – she’s become a friend.”

Lorna Hraboweckyj, the Manager of Hastings Community Transport (HCT) explains that the buddy “is like the cherry on the cake”. They befriend the clients, find out about safeguarding issues and keep check on a weekly or even daily basis. 

The service carries an average of 430 people each month, travelling almost 1,500 miles; the demand is huge, but they can’t meet all of it. The service relies on volunteers and they are now desperate for new recruits. Drivers can drive on a normal licence if they are 21-69 and the minimum commitment is a morning or afternoon each week.

Lorna explains that the service was originally used to move people to day centres but after cuts by social services, HCT had to convert to a charity to seek grants. 

Lorna is clear that volunteering is good for all concerned: it’s about trying to get people who might not think they are suitable to take the first step by buddying and then becoming a driver.  “It’s about growing people, as well as helping the clients,” she says.

Helen thinks HCT was a big step in her recovery: “I’d say to anyone that feels like they need to use it: ‘use it’ … I think volunteering’s brilliant!” 

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