You could be forgiven for thinking it’s a lonely life for the driver of a Cornwall Hospice Care delivery van, but every day’s different and these are the people who are the face of the charity on the counties roads. On an average shift they’ll visit a number of shops, squeeze in to some very tight parking spots and run the gauntlet of busy main streets and mountains of donated goods that need moving. Tamsin Thomas has been out and about with driver Steve Cauldwell on the North Cornwall van route:
It’s the Tuesday after a Bank Holiday weekend and we’re going to be busy. Donations will have built up at the Cornwall Hospice Care shops over the three days and they’ll need collecting. Steve cheerfully reports that we’re off to Camelford, Tintagel, Bude and Launceston and we’re away, the first van out of the yard.
Steve’s been a Cornwall Hospice Care driver for three years now and loves football so painfully aware of my lack of knowledge of the game, I question him about his past. “I’m from Birmingham originally” he confirms in his brummy accent, “I’ve been a welder, a postman, a DJ and a driver for a balloon decorator in Cyprus, but that’s another story.” I know from this one sentence that we’re going to get on just fine.
In no time at all we’re in Camelford and having to block the road to load the donated goods. We don’t hang around, but of all the vehicles to come up behind us it’s a police van! However, they’re patient as we bustle backwards and forwards under the watchful eye of Shop Manager Sophie.
Tintagel is just as busy, but first we have to squeeze the van between a granite post and a building to avoid catching the eye of unforgiving private parking attendants. There’s another large batch of donations to load and then we’re rewarded with a coffee that we enjoy with Shop Manager Heather and volunteer Maureen who is also known as the ‘Pocket Rocket’. Having declined a biscuit, Steve says “the best bit about this job is travelling round beautiful Cornwall and meeting the Managers and volunteers. The worst bit is the amounts we have to collect and load, often on our own.”
At Bude it’s another cheery greeting from the two shops and a chance to catch up with Verity who was Manager at Tintagel when I spent a day there, and is now on secondment to the Bude Lifestyle shop for six months. “The vans are really important to the shops” she explains. “It’s a very much improved service these days and the drivers know what we will and won’t take. They’re a great team, but it must be tough when they’re on their own and have to do all the lifting and shifting. It’s always good to see them arrive with a driver’s mate in tow.”
We eat an early lunch overlooking Widemouth Bay during which Steve introduces me to the ‘delights’ of eating cold soup or baked beans straight from the can. I’m still not convinced. He also tells the story of arriving at a shop to find a series of calls on his phone from his last destination. “Turns out the volunteer had put her handbag on top of the pile of bags to be loaded and I’d taken it, complete with her car and house keys. I eventually found it, right under everything else in the van, typical!”
Our final stop is Launceston where the shop has been overwhelmed with donations that need collecting. “I’ll take two bags of women’s clothing, curtains and shoes, if you’ve got them” says Assistant Manager Phil. There are giggles as Phil explains that his interest in shoes is ‘because they sell well’, but that’s prompted a rumour that he has a shoe fetish. Another welcome cuppa and I cross the road to take a picture of the van outside the shop. “Nice shot” says someone behind me and I turn to see a smiling Traffic Warden. “Time to go” I call to Steve and we head off to complete our 101 mile round trip. Steve reckons he covers around 22,500 miles a year just driving round Cornwall!
Arrival back at the warehouse in Holmbush and though ‘they think it’s all over’ (my one footy quote), it isn’t. Now we unload the van and then load it up ready for tomorrow’s route that’ll take Steve to St Blazey, Liskeard, Looe, Launceston and back to St Blazey. “There’s never a dull day” says Steve, who heads home leaving me with memories of cold soup, traffic wardens and shoes. Now that’s a good day out!