Chief Executive, North Norfolk Community Transport
It all started with an email from the Big Lottery, asking if organisations who have received Lottery funding in the past would like to nominate anyone for a Big Surprise. Vic immediately came to my mind!
Vic has been a community driver with us for the last four years, having been appointed with Lottery funding to set up a new route called Coastal Connections that would help us cover the rural, coastal parts of North Norfolk. Vic’s role is a paid role, but he always goes above and beyond in terms of the time and energy he gives to his passengers and to make the service a huge success.
Not a day goes by that we don’t get a phone call from at least one passenger to tell us how amazing he is and the difference he has made to them.
“He has helped me keep my independence,” one passenger said, “introduced me to new friends, taken me on trips I would not have been able to do, and brightened my week”.
Our accessible minibus transport provides a lifeline for many, as without it they would be unable to leave their homes and access essential services in the community. They also develop friendships with their fellow passengers and this can help enormously with overcoming loneliness. One passenger told us that: “it’s brought me back to the land of the living and helped me enormously to recover from my husband’s death”.
After nominating Vic for a Big Lottery Big Surprise, all went quiet and I thought nothing of it, as you never really expect to hear back from these things. But then out of the blue we had a call from ITN Productions to find out more about Vic and what the organisation does. They wanted to go ahead with the Big Surprise and this would be filmed for a primetime Lottery TV advert. Things quickly snowballed and before long we had a week to get the surprise organised!
As Vic is a huge Formula One fan, the idea was to bring him to Snetterton Race Circuit, where he would be whizzed around by a professional driver in a Lotus supercar. Now all we had to do was organise three minibus-loads of his passengers, his work colleagues, his family and some key friends to be there, without him knowing. Not to mention getting him there too! So with the help of ITN we hatched a plan for Vic to take a minibus with some of his passengers to Snetterton for a ‘conference’, where other organisations would also attend to talk about the difference lottery funding has made to them. Vic thought this was a brilliant idea and quickly sprang into action.
The week leading up to the surprise was incredibly tense, with the office team aware that at any moment Vic could smell a rat! With so many people involved it seemed impossible that everyone would manage to keep quiet, especially as Vic was still driving his regular routes each day, often with a number of passengers on board who were in on the surprise.
But we made it. The day of the surprise came about and the plan was put into motion. By 11am colleagues, friends, family, and passengers all gathered outside a hanger at Snetterton Circuit, eagerly awaiting Vic’s arrival. At this point I was still unsure how he would react. I had been warned that Vic was not a fan of surprises, so goodness knows how he would take this one!
At 11.30am Vic’s community bus pulled around the corner and up to the front of the hanger. Vic’s face when he saw two other NNCT buses and the group of people standing out front was an absolute picture. To say he was shocked would definitely be an understatement, but this quickly turned to excitement when he was shown the Lotus supercar he would get to take a ride in. He was also delighted to see his daughter who had been brought back from University especially for the occasion.
After some filming and a bit of lunch everyone moved over to the stands to watch as Vic hurtled round the circuit at speeds of up to 163 miles an hour. Everyone was having a lovely time, waving at Vic shooting past, whilst sitting in glorious sunshine and making jokes about how fast he would be driving the minibus on the return trip home.
Vic has said that his Big Surprise was an experience he will never forget and not only was it lovely to see everyone but it also gave some of his passengers a great day out to remember too, which was the icing on the cake.
The film aired in the advert break of the X Factor on Saturday the 13th October and not only did it give Vic the recognition he deserves, but hopefully it also showed the whole of the country (in just 72 seconds) the difference that community transport, in all its different forms, can make.
Community Transport Association UK is a charitable company limited by guarantee. Registered in Cardiff no. 1985361 Registered office: 12 Hilton Street M1 1JF. Registered as a charity in England and Wales no. 1002222. Charity Registered in Scotland No. SC038518.