Daventry Area Community Transport (DACT) this year marks the 21st anniversary since its founding.
From its humble beginnings in 1993 under the leadership of chief executive Rob Kinning, DACT has grown from a handful of car drivers into an award-winning charity with 171 dedicated volunteers and a fleet of seven minibuses.
DACT currently serves the district around Daventry and beyond with a number of schemes specialising in offering access to affordable, safe and reliable transport to vulnerable individuals who are unable to use public transportation or hired cars.
“When I walked in 21 years ago it was blank canvas to start with,” Mr Kinning said. “There was committee that had come to the conclusion that transport issues were something Daventry had to look at. The biggest problem then and still is for people is to get from A to B, especially in the rural villages.
“We started off with a car scheme running people to medical appointments –that was the first thing. I inherited five volunteers from the volunteer centre and we started with them.
“Today we are doing 20,000 medical trips per year – this is quite a big change over the years.”
But despite DACT’s dramatic expansion, Mr Kinning said community remained at the heart of the organisation.
He said: “DACT is a service run for the community, by the community, and I think this is important. The beauty of our service is that it is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. But we could not succeed without our volunteers – without them and the magnificent effort they put in, we would not have a service.”
At least 75 per cent of the people who take advantage of DACT trips and schemes are senior citizens, and for many it is their only alternative when they are unable to use public transportation or afford a taxi.
The charity helps individuals with a range of services, from offering lifts to the shops to taking people to medical appointments, as well as day trips.
There is a charge for the service, which goes towards the cost of fuel and to meet the £60,000 investment needed each year to replace old minibuses.
Mr Kinning said: “The demand has increased exponentially and we are constantly looking for more volunteers.”
To cope with this rise, DACT has forged a number of partnerships with local businesses. The Ford site on the Royal Oak industrial estate offers safe storage for the charity’s minibuses, while nearby Cummins helps issue keys to drivers.
Like many charities DACT has changed to meet the needs of its community, expanding into mobility services with a shop in New Street offering equipment to rent and buy and a new repair service for mobility scooters.
But a fundamental part of DACT’s success is the way it has engaged with and has tailored its service to fit each community.
“I am often delighted by the response we receive,” Mr Kinning said. “We get letters, phone calls, sometimes even from relatives of people we transport who live far away and appreciate what we are doing.”
This groundswell of support became apparent in 2011 when 11,102 people (18.5 per cent of the adult population of Daventry district)signed a petition calling for NCC to protect DACT’s funding from severe cuts. Despite DACT’s longevity, Mr Kinning said the organisation has some big challenges to face in the future, with soaring demand, shrinking Government grants and disappearing public transportation to name a few.
He said: “We can’t be complacent. As well as being here for the next few years we want to be here for many years to come.”
Approaches have been made by councils to encourage DACT to take on statutory work in public transport like that of businesses such as Stagecoach, but Mr Kinning is adamant this will never happen.
“We don’t want to get involved in that. In some areas groups like ours have gotten involved in statutory work and then you could get into issues over unfair competition. We want to stick to what we do well.”
In the immediate future DACT aims to expand its community car club and to continue to recruit keen volunteers to help them meet the needs of vulnerable people.