A voluntary service little known outside of those who operate or use it was praised last week at the annual general meeting of the Burnham Market Community Car Scheme in the village hall.
Community-minded volunteer car drivers who travelled nearly 60,000 miles last year were told they are part of an organisation that provides a vital service within an area centred on Burnham Market surgery.
Vice-chairman, Dr David Ince, highlighted their unstinting work.
The scheme grew from small beginnings in 2002 to an organisation whose 27 drivers travelled 58,863 miles in 2016 taking patients to medical appointments, and spent 3,818 unpaid volunteer hours of their time supporting the National Health Service in the area.
Their generous help made an enormous impact on housebound patients and the quality of the service provided by medical staff who cared for them.
They saved, for example, the many hours that doctors would otherwise have spent visiting those same people in their homes.
They also carried their passengers to hospitals, surgeries, nursing homes, opticians, dentists and allied services.
They were told that their work often stretched beyond the bounds of the prescribed limits of the service they provided, like, for example, at no cost to the patient or the service, to help with the weekly shopping, or popping into the local library.
Richard Phipps, a driver for the past seven years, enjoys his work for the scheme.
“My passengers are always very grateful. In a hospital if they want it I take them to the right department and I stay with them.”
His work also builds up friendships.
“I have passengers who become so attached to me that they will only use me.”
The scheme operates east of Wells along the coast, including Burnham Market, to Old Hunstanton and inland to Fakenham, including North and South Creake, all administered by co-ordinator Daphne Potter.
“We are now dealing with no fewer than fifty referrals a week and attended 3,582 medically-related appointments last year,” she said.
“We aim to help people stay in their own home without the worry of getting to any appointments.”
Members respond however unsocial the hour which means they work at weekends and even on Christmas Day if necessary.
For many it is a life-long commitment.
Members of the original committee back in 2002 still working for the scheme include Mrs Potter, secretary Alison Taylor and treasurer Stafford Snell.
Several of the original drivers are also still members of the scheme.
Drivers do more than just transport passengers to Burnham Market surgery and, sometimes, other local surgeries.
They drive to Papworth, Addenbrooke’s and the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital as well as the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Lynn, Cromer Hospital and Wells-next-the-Sea Community Hospital.
Loyalty to the scheme and being grateful for its existence was brought into sharp focus by the daughter of Fred Pick who died six days before his ninetieth birthday.
At the meeting his daughter, Anna Thackeray, and widow, Vera, donated £375 to the scheme in his memory.
Patients are charged 45p per mile and the scheme receives grants from Norfolk County Council, local parish councils, a number of local charities plus personal donations, including some from patients themselves.
Yet there was still a four figure debit between income and expenditure last year.
“A shortfall in balancing the books means that we are always looking extra funding.
“We always need more money as the scheme is continually expanding” said Mrs Potter.
She continually looks for more volunteer drivers.
There is no age limit and the only qualification is the possession of a current driving licence.
Anyone wishing to financially support the scheme can become members of a quarterly draw.
Googling Burnham Market Community Car Scheme provides further details.