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Volunteer delivery driver Joanne Alexander spoke to Valerie Hart about her experiences driving FareShare Sussex’s new electric van. 

Joanne has been volunteering at FareShare Sussex since August 2020, joining in the midst of the pandemic. Initially she wanted to work in the warehouse as she didn’t think she was capable of driving a large van, having only ever driven a Ford Fiesta. However, when FareShare Sussex urgently needed backup drivers she agreed to give it a go. 

“When I got up into the van, I looked at all the controls and thought they are basically the same as what I’m used to, but I was so anxious my heart was beating wildly and I nearly got out again. However, I managed to get a grip on myself and set off. And within a very short time I felt comfortable, realising I could do it,” Joanne said. 

Having never driven an automatic, it initially seemed very strange as it reacts very differently to a car with an engine and gears. “My left foot was anxious to be on a pedal and the hand brake is very different, just a little thing on the side that you pull.”

However, once Joanne got used to it, she found it very pleasant to drive.

“It’s very smooth and is an absolute delight going up hills as you don’t have to worry about gears. Once I’d trained my left leg to stay where it was on the floor, I was off. And with it being smaller, it’s much easier to manoeuvre than the non-electric vans.”

However, being much smaller than the non-electric vans, Joanne can’t stand up straight in the back and said she often bangs her head.

She now regularly drives the van on Monday and Tuesday mornings. And driving it during the various lockdowns has been personally beneficial.

Joanne told us that: “It’s been a bit of a lifeline, giving me a purpose and enabling me to get out talking and interacting with people. Also, it didn’t matter I wasn’t going to the gym as I get a workout just carrying the crates back and forth. I really love working for FareShare, and its whole team spirit, and meeting lots of people.”  

Joanne is a strong advocate of FareShare Sussex’s goals of providing food to those in need while reducing food waste, and is evangelical about trying to educate people on cutting back on food waste themselves.

FareShare Sussex’s year-long electric vehicle project, which includes the LDV EV80 electric van as well as an electric cargo bike, was funded by WRAP (Waste and Resources Action Programme), a charity that promotes sustainable resource use.  The aim is to help FareShare Sussex increase the amount of food it collects and delivers while at the same time reducing its carbon footprint and toxic emissions from deliveries.

The electric van needs to be driven differently to the non-electric vans, according to Joanne. For instance, the driver must always keep an eye on how charged the battery is, and so needs to plan the routes carefully. If, for instance, the satnav takes a more circuitous route or leads to a wrong turn, the driver might have to find a recharging station before the battery runs out. They then have to wait as it takes time to recharge the battery. 

Also, according to Joanne, the van runs better if it is allowed to go some distance and pick up speed occasionally, like on a motorway, whereas driving it round Brighton is not always ideal due to it having to always stop and start. 

Joanne has been told that she has the perfect manner for driving an electric van as she is always looking ahead. 

“If, on the motorway, I see people breaking ahead, then I immediately take my foot off the accelerator to slow down rather than go at the same speed and then having to put my foot on the brake. Every time you brake, you are creating more pollution from the brake pads, and it’s not fuel efficient.” 

“You can create energy as well by the way you drive. If you are going downhill, the way to drive is smoothly, with no sudden braking, and to be aware of what’s in front of you. I already drove like that, and it’s particularly useful in the electric van.”