Carol has been volunteering with Liberty Drives for the past 16 years. Her passengers have included Terry Wogan and Barbara Windsor; and through her volunteering she has been reunited with a long-lost friend.
1Can you explain your role in one sentence?I am a volunteer driver for the charity Liberty Drives. Liberty Drives provide adapted golf buggies in Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens, enabling elderly people and those with limited mobility to enjoy these beautiful spaces. I love meeting new people and being out in nature. This is the perfect volunteer role for me.
2How long have you been doing this volunteering role?I have volunteered for the charity for 16 years. When I first started this role I was just returning to work and used to volunteer for half a day a week. Now I am retired I have more time and volunteer two days a week.
3Did you find yourself in this role by accident or by design?It was purely accidental. My Mum had passed away and I was feeling low. One day I was with a friend, walking in Hyde Park, and we saw one of the Liberty Drive vehicles. My friend immediately said I should do that, and I went home and rang up the charity. Liberty Drives gave me something when I was at a really low ebb in my life. I absolutely love it and have never looked back.
4What’s the best part about your volunteering?I really enjoy being able to help people and tell them about the different aspects of the park. So many people just don’t realise how extensive the parks are, and I love introducing them to the different spaces. You meet some real characters along the way too and I have invites to go all over the world from just meeting and chatting to people as I drive them round. There used to be a group of elderly ladies from the Caribbean who I would regularly give lifts to. I can still hear their infectious laughter. They were all over 80 and such a joy to be with.
It’s always fun to pick up the odd celebrity too. I’ve given lifts to Barbara Windsor and Terry Wogan and his wife after the Proms in Hyde Park. They were both lovely – so down to earth and friendly.
5What’s the strangest thing that has ever happened to you in your role? In July 2016 I was volunteering and I met two couples who appeared to be lost. I offered to give them a tour and we started to chat. They were all visiting from Australia and one of them told me he was President of the Fairbridge Society WA. I ended up telling them, how in my earlier years, I was brought up in a convent and that my friend Eddie had been sent away to Australia. This man took down Eddie’s details and several months later, at Christmas time, he told me he had found Eddie.
It transpired that Eddie was back living in the UK and he encouraged me to contact the Child Migrant Trust in Nottingham. I did, and much to my amazement, a few weeks later, I received a text from Eddie. He was only 5 years old when he left the convent and had no memory of that time, but we have rekindled our friendship and are great friends again. We meet up about once a month and call one another every week. It’s almost like the old times.
6What do you enjoy doing when you are not volunteering in this role?I really enjoy travelling and am very fortunate to have visited lots of wonderful places, including Australia, Argentina and Borneo. I am a keen amateur photographer and always have my camera with me when I am out in the park.
7What do you like about this area? Perhaps unsurprisingly, I have to say Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens, which I have been visiting since I was 10 years old. I know I am biased, but I love spending time in the park, even when I am not volunteering. It provides the perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of London. I love how there is enough space for everyone to be able to do their own thing.
8Where’s your favourite place to go for lunch in the local area? There is a little Italian called Bizarro’s. It is very busy – you have to book, but there is a wonderful ambience. Their pasta with garlic, oil, some chilli or prawns and a glass of red wine, always goes down very well.
9Who is YOUR hero and what is it about them that inspires you?My hero is David Attenborough. Like him, I really enjoy travel and nature and he makes everything he talks about so interesting, you can’t help but be immersed in what he is saying. I never tire of his programmes. I believe he lives near Richmond Park – it would be wonderful if he could visit us here.
10If you could visit anywhere in the world, where would it be? I would love to travel to Tibet and experience a totally different culture and landscape. I am not sure if I will get there – I may struggle with the altitude, but I think it would be a wonderful place to have an adventure.