Last month, Rachael Murphy, CTA’s Director for Scotland and I made our way to the wildly gorgeous Highlands of Scotland to visit some of our esteemed members. When you think road trip, you might think Thelma and Louise but we’re in the community transport business so alas no shootouts or Brad Pitt in sight. Nonetheless, this trip was exciting, informative and interesting. Below, we both share our thoughts on our adventure:
Emer: On a blustery Monday morning, going from city views to highland scenery, Rachael and I made our way to Inverness by train. We decided to split our time by conducting visits individually enabling us to cover more ground and visit more members, thus we went our separate ways on arrival to Inverness. I had the pleasure of visiting Shopmobility Highland and was greeted by Paul and Norman who kindly enlightened me on the activities carried out by Shopmobility. I was taken aback by the sheer scale on which they operate, especially considering the boundaries they operate within. Formed approximately 15 years ago, Shopmobility Highland runs two minibuses and a number of scooters. We spoke of all things community transport, drank tea and ate copious amounts of banana bread, all of which were a common feature throughout this trip!
Rachael: It was great to be in Inverness again and I headed to meet Partnerships for Wellbeing (P4W). Meeting Robert was a brilliant opportunity to learn more about operating a city-to-suburban CT. With NHS funding a subject of worry for many operators in and around the Highlands, we chatted about funding strategies and local figures who could offer support. Even in a time of turmoil, Robert has big ideas for P4W, and I’m really looking forward to seeing what’s next.
Emer: After lunch we regrouped to set off on our next adventure to Strathglass for the ‘Transport Feasibility Conference’, hosted by Urban Foresight. This conference brought together community representatives from the Glen Urquart and Strathglass region to discuss the challenges and opportunities ahead as their service and passenger expectations are transformed by community transport infrastructure. There were panel discussions, Q&As, group exercises, as well as plenty of coffee breaks and nibbles. One feeling permeated every conversation and presentation; a deeply held enthusiasm for improving transport in rural Scotland. This unifying goal meant that those from a variety of fields, private, public and third sector, and with totally different perspectives and solutions, are getting together and agreeing dates for future meetings.
As a new employee of CTA and a new resident of Scotland, this meeting provided a great insight into life as a highlander. What I learned is that you’ve got to see it to believe it! As uniquely vast and beautiful as northern Scotland is, it is undeniably isolated and under served by public transport.
Emer: After a healthy sleep fuelled by gravy and yorkshire pudding, we collected our rental car and set out for another day of meetings. I drove to Creich Croick to meet Lorraine, manager of the Bradbury Centre. This was a great meeting and Lorraine shed light on how community transport plays a pivotal role in the everyday running of a rural day-care centre. After chatting with Lorraine I felt refreshed and enthused by the compassion and hard work of the Bradbury Centre and their community. This was a feeling that continued throughout the week. Whilst I held down the fort at Creich Croick, Rachael met with HiTrans.
Rachael: I’ve met Ranald Robertson before, but it was great to sit down with him and syphon off just a little bit of his knowledge of transport in the Highlands. One of my ambitions for the coming twelve months is to work closely with Regional Transport Partnerships like HiTrans, so it was great to begin the effort in Inverness.
Emer: Once our meetings had come to a close we were back en route to Lochinver. The beauty of the passage from Inverness to Lochinver is beyond measure. Like many other road trippers we made a pit stop at Ullapool, a beautiful village that’s guaranteed to tug at your heartstrings. Famed for its fish, Rachael and I grabbed some lunch and chatted about the outcomes of our meetings so far.
Emer: I met Rachael in the morning for some breakfast before starting our day. We’d both spent the previous evening wandering around Lochinver in the sunshine with the sea breeze making us feel both replenished and exhausted in equal measure! We were ready for our third day.
I met with Connect Assynt, a volunteer community service devoted to getting everyone out and about in Assynt and beyond. Dedicated to freedom and fairness of opportunities through providing accessible transport to an otherwise under served community, Connect Assynt is run by a board of five local trustees, one part-time administrator and a number of volunteer drivers. During our meeting they spoke to the benefits and challenges of running a community transport scheme in such a vastly rural area.
Rachael: My other half’s parents live near Lochinver, so it felt a wee bit strange to be there on CTA business. I shouldn’t have worried though, as upon my arrival at Community Care Assynt, I received a friendly welcome. I met with Bill, who ran me through how the centre provides a vital link for older people with their communities in Lochinver and Baddidarroch, as well as the Highlands at large. Bill runs the centre with impressive organisation and an evident charm. He also helpfully told us the best route to our next stop – an hour less than the journey Google maps was suggesting!
Emer: Our last meeting of the day took place in Golspie with the very positive Richard and Val who chair Go Golspie. Rachael and I both agreed that this was a unique meeting. We were blown away by the eloquence and entrepreneurship shown by the two. Go Golspie states its aims and objectives as assisting the community to meet its needs and achieve its ambitions, and Richard and Val walked us through their fresh ideas and approaches to establishing a successful community transport infrastructure.
Emer: Bright and early, Rachael dropped me off to meet with members of Rosshire Voluntary Action. Unlike other members I’d met that week, Rosshire Voluntary Action predominantly operates as a car scheme. This well-established organisation covers all areas from Black Isle to Dingwall (occasionally Inverness), providing services mainly to medical appointments, shopping and social events. Rosshire Voluntary Action has a broad group of volunteers which speaks volumes about the hard working ethos and welcoming feel of this organisation.
Rachael: Having been with CTA for a year now, I find a stupid amount of joy in minibuses that are constantly on the road. That’s what I found in Alness. Alness Community Minibus is used by a myriad of local groups, teams, associations and squads. It allows the local school to get the kids to swimming and the local church to get ladies to the WI in the next town. Along with their local newspaper and heritage centre, the minibus is a community cornerstone.
Emer: That afternoon, Rachael and I visited Nairn Community Transport. We were greeted by Nicola, the manager of Nairn Community Centre. All I have to say on this visit is Nicola is an absolute go getter, leaving no stone unturned! Nairn Community Transport is nothing short of a community jewel.
Emer: Our final day began by meeting with Maggie Lawson of Badenoch and Strathspey Community Transport Company, better known as Where 2 Today. For most in Scotland’s community transport community, the names Where 2 Today and Maggie Lawson are well known. With just two busses and one adapted car, Where 2 Today currently offer nine distinct schemes that benefit local people. Alongside their vehicles, Maggie has a small but strong team of staff. Two minutes through the door, and we were being regaled with the details of a wild journey that Maggie and a volunteer driver had taken on Saturday. Asked if she would take the group again, there was no hesitation. Being open minded and up for anything seems to be a hall mark of the Where 2 Today team.
So I wasn’t Geena Davis, Rachael was no Susan Sarandon and Brad Pitt didn’t make an appearance. But it was a great road trip. And I feel buoyed by knowing so many people from such a variety of backgrounds are working so hard to make transport accessible and inclusive for everyone in Scotland.
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