Pat Punch was at rock bottom. After his relationship with his wife broke down in 1996 he became depressed for the first time in his life and was prescribed Prozac by his doctor to help him cope.
Just 18 months later the anti-depressant pills were thrown in the bin – but not as a result of counselling sessions or on the advice from medical experts. His depression had been conquered thanks to a voluntary organisation, Daventry Area Community Transport.
After constantly breaking down in tears at work Pat, who moved to Daventry from Birmingham in 1975, started attending church once more.
At a service he met a lady who suggested he pay a visit to Rob Kinning, now DACT’s chief executive, and so began his road to recovery.
“I went and had a word with Rob and I’ve never looked back since,” said Pat, who turns 75 next month.
“I get on great with Rob, he’s more of a friend than a work colleague. He got on well with me so I started driving and I’ve been with them 20 years.”
That was April 1997. Initially Pat joined to help distract himself from the emotional situation he found himself in following his break-up. His depression was so severe that he was contemplating taking his own life. DACT was a lifeline for him, it saved his life.
“Initially it was to help take my mind off things, but then it helped me a lot because it got me out the house as I had retired.
“After a bit I thought ‘I’m really doing something useful as well as helping people, and one day I might need help myself’.
“Nearly everybody, whether it’s car and minibus journeys, they all thank me very much and say what would they do without me, and I say ‘it works both ways, you help me as well.’”
After speaking with DACT volunteers it becomes clear that the benefits are not solely reserved for those who use the services the charity offers.
As well as operating a dial a ride service for people who find it difficult to make it to medical appointments independently, the charity also organises days out trips for members, and has a mobility shop where it hires scooters and wheelchairs, and sells restored medical equipment and books.
The fact Pat is able to speak so candidly about the way his life was transformed by DACT is testament to the charity’s lasting impact on its volunteers.
Mary Watson works two mornings a week at the DACT Mobility Shop in New Street in Daventry, and has been there for nearly six years.
Her husband used to volunteer for the charity but became too ill to continue and so joined DACT as a member.
Mary, 73, looked after him until he sadly passed away. Shortly after his death she was invited join DACT as a volunteer.
“I knew several members already and eventually it worked out really well for me, it was good for me,” she said.
“When he was ill all my time was taken up with him and then suddenly I had nothing.”
She began with one shift a week. Working in the shop helped her to slowly come to terms with the passing of her husband, and also stopped her from becoming isolated from the community.
“I’ve found a new bunch of friends,” said Mary, from Weedon. “It’s good for my wellbeing, not just the customers’.”
Isolation is a real problem for the older generation of Daventry district residents. With 78 rural villages spread across 267 square miles and with public transport often not stopping among these smaller villages, getting out and meeting new people is difficult for the elderly.
In some cases their only main contact with members of the community comes in the form of a DACT volunteer driver, or when they sign up for a DACT days out trip.
Dennis Clayton is the chairman of the board of trustees and has been with DACT for 10 years.
He retired early from a corporate job where he was making decisions on who the company should make redundant.
“You sit down with a spreadsheet working out people’s lives,” said 67-year-old Dennis, who helps prepare the days out. “When you go home you don’t feel very good. It was all about the bottom line, people were a commodity.”
Since joining the charity his perspective on life has changed entirely.
“It was tremendous for me because then I realised that I actually knew nothing about the world, although I thought I did. And all this was happening on my doorstep and being supported by some fantastic people who probably get very little reward or recognition.”
Like Pat, Dennis also saw first-hand how the charity’s work can save lives.
“You’ll find people on DACT Days Out who say it’s saved their lives,” said Dennis. “And it all sounds very dramatic but it’s true.”
He goes on to speak about a man from Heyford with whom he became friends. The man had lost his wife and began feeling depressed and despondent. Then he found out about DACT Days Out, and he joined.
“It’s been a new lease of life for him. He’s now got a circle of friends who he meets up with and go on trips with. He would say it saved his life.”