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Out and about with the Peak District’s 4x4 Response UK team

PUBLISHED: 12:05 17 March 2015 | UPDATED: 12:05 17 March 2015

The Peak 4x4 Response Team in action  Photo: GR Photography

The Peak 4x4 Response Team in action Photo: GR Photography

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When conditions get bad, the volunteer members of 4x4 Response UK are here to help out. Derbyshire Life pays the Peak group a visit...

Members of Peak 4x4 Response Team: l to r, David and Sally Wheatley, Clive Hulme and Craig Brannen  Photo: GR PhotographyMembers of Peak 4x4 Response Team: l to r, David and Sally Wheatley, Clive Hulme and Craig Brannen Photo: GR Photography

Given the competing demands for access to the countryside, 4x4 off-roaders don’t always get the best publicity, which is a shame as the vast majority of 4x4 drivers are responsible and community-minded people.

In fact, many put a lot back into their local communities. During the inclement months when our roads often become blocked to ordinary traffic due to snow or flood water, 4x4 drivers have often formed voluntary links with their local emergency services to help get key workers to where they need to be.

These enthusiasts began to band together and the first 4x4 Response group was formed in Norfolk in 1999, which quickly grew to become the 4x4 Response Network, with regional groups now covering the whole of the UK. The network is now known as 4x4 Response UK.

The highest profile work the 4x4 Response UK network has been involved with was the flooding of the Somerset Levels over the Christmas period of 2013/14, where volunteers were deployed for a record 46 consecutive days. Most of their work is low key though, and consists of quietly making sure that essential medical attention reaches people living in isolated communities all over the UK if the weather makes the roads impassable to non-specialist vehicles.

After heavy snowfall 4x4's can get through where other vehicles failAfter heavy snowfall 4x4's can get through where other vehicles fail

Although their work may be low key, it certainly isn’t low impact. Nationally, figures from the 4x4 Response network show that during the bad weather of early 2013 volunteers drove over 131,000 miles on a total of 2,580 deployments. This took a total of over 5,200 man hours.

Nine hundred and fifty ambulance call outs and subsequent hospitalisation of patients were avoided, which the network estimates has saved the NHS over £500,000. But as Simon Brothwood, Chair of the West Midlands group, points out, it is about more than money alone: ‘A lot of these patients are end of life patients and wanted to be in their own homes, so the benefit to them is unmeasurable.’

I met the Peak 4x4 Response Group on one of their training runs on the Chatsworth Estate.

Craig Brannen’s day job is working as a computer programmer for a bank. He moved to Chesterfield from Scotland with his wife three years ago and has two children – an 8-month-old son and a 4-year-old daughter, Isabella.

Craig has a long-standing interest in Landrovers and joined the local 4x4 Response UK group when he moved to Chesterfield because, ‘I was looking for a way I could get involved and help out a bit.’

During a bad Peak District winter there is no shortage of things to do.

‘A lot of elderly people live right out in the sticks in the Peak District, and you wouldn’t be able to get there unless you have a four wheel drive or a tractor,’ says Craig. ‘So our role is taking carers, who are making sure people are getting up and their heating is on and that they are fed, and then going back at night to make sure they are tucked in.’

Although much of the group’s work goes unnoticed, some of their deployments are of critical importance.

‘We have taken renal patients who have had to go for dialysis, if the ambulances can’t get through,’ says David Wheatley, another Peak responder. Other missions have involved making sure that diabetics receive their insulin.

Craig has an old 110 Landrover Defender – what many of us who live out in the country would call a ‘proper’ Landrover! Despite his high tech job as a computer programmer, he likes his cars to be decidedly low tech, with the minimum of electronics.

He says that his old Landrover is: ‘Robust, repairable, and doesn’t require a laptop to reboot it!’ Like many 4x4 enthusiasts, Craig likes to do his own maintenance and mechanics – with the help of his daughter Isabella!

‘My little girl often does try and help out, a few times if I am putting stuff together I’ll say put the ratchet on that, and she’ll sit and turn bolts,’ says Craig, laughing. ‘She just loves being involved in it. I think more than anything else it is something she can do with Dad. She really loves it.’

Peak 4x4 Response is open to interested volunteers. All you need is a 4x4 vehicle – it doesn’t have to be a Landrover – and a desire to help out. The group will help develop your driving skills and maintenance skills, if required, and the calmer months weather-wise are a good time to do that.

So far, there are 55 members on stand-by to be called upon, if weather conditions dictate. As Craig concludes, ‘We are a close knit group and are always happy to help each other out.’

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