• The Value of Community Transport Forums: Insights from Somerset

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    What are the essential elements of a successful Community Transport Forum? As part of Community Transport Week 2023, CTA’s Tackling Loneliness Coordinator, Sean Ray, sat down with Nick Margison, the Commissioning Manager for Transport and Highways at Somerset Council. Nick shared his comprehensive insights into the effective management and significance of Community Transport Forums. Read on to discover why these forums matter, the role of local councils, and practical advice for sustainable growth in the community transport sector.

    Why Community Transport Forums Matter 

    Community Transport Forums are more than a place to discuss the nuts and bolts of running a service. They serve as a living think-tank, bringing together multiple stakeholders to address challenges like the COVID pandemic, volunteer recruitment, and the perennial issue of funding.

    “It’s a broad spectrum… vehicle availability, types of vehicles people are using, maintenance…all these come up,” says Margison, underlining the need for such forums to exist and the vast array of topics they can cover.

    Learning from other Counties’ Approaches

    Devon’s “Transport for Your Community” initiative, sponsored by the council, acted as a beacon for Nick. This initiative created a collaborative platform where all CT entities could connect and benefit. While this model has seen various evolutions, the core idea was clear – create environments where groups can converse and share.

    Stakeholder Support: Councils and Industry Bodies

    The question of how involved the local authority should be in these forums is a significant one. According to Margison, the council’s role is as a facilitator rather than the focal point. This means creating a space where CT groups feel empowered to share their insights and solve problems collaboratively.

    The presence of industry bodies like the Community Transport Association (CTA) can offer an extra layer of validation and support, making these forums more than just a local initiative. It’s about creating a space where real, actionable change can happen, informed by a broad spectrum of experiences and insights.

    “Their consistent attendance at our meetings underscores the value of these platforms,” Margison notes, emphasising that the best results come when councils can walk the line between participation and oversight.

    Sustainable CT Growth

    One of Nick’s prime pieces of advice for those new to the CT world is to start small and then grow. He cautions against thinking too big too quickly, which often leads to operational hurdles and failures.

    “Starting with car schemes is advisable – they’re simpler to manage and offer a solid foundation for growth,” Margison says, cautioning against the allure of immediately acquiring minibuses or larger vehicles without proper planning.

    He emphasises the importance of ensuring the chosen mode of transport aligns with actual capability rather than defaulting to what seems conventionally ideal.

    Final Thoughts

    The recipe for a successful Community Transport Forum involves several key ingredients: a collaborative environment, balanced facilitation from the council, and a focus on realistic and sustainable growth. As we navigate the ever-changing landscape of community transport, these forums offer a space for collective wisdom, problem-solving, and genuine change.

    By fostering such platforms, local authorities and CT groups alike can benefit from shared learning, paving the way for more robust, sustainable community transport solutions.

    Are you involved in a Community Transport Forum or thinking of starting one? If you have any questions we’re happy to answer them, email us: advice@ctauk.org.

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