Volunteers’ Week 2019 – out and about with our members
14th June 2019
The first week of June was Volunteers’ Week, a time to celebrate the enormous impact that volunteers have in our communities. Volunteers are a vital part of the community transport sector, contributing their time and energy to ensure that everyone can have access to the transport they need.
At CTA, one of our main values as an organisation is that ‘we champion volunteers’ so this time around we wanted to spend Volunteers’ Week out and about volunteering with our members. CTA staff headed out to community transport providers across the UK to get involved and meet the volunteers without whom the community transport sector wouldn’t exist. Take a look below to hear their stories of what went on.
A huge thank you to all the organisations that were kind enough to take in our team for the day and to the thousands of community transport volunteers all across the UK whose work makes such a difference to the lives of so many.
Suzanne Lau, Policy Executive
Volunteering at Horsforth Minibus Fund
Kicking off Volunteers Week, I was delighted to be heading home to Horsforth in Leeds to volunteer with Horsforth Minibus Fund. Spending the day aboard the minibus assisting driver Chris, we picked up older passengers (many whom were into their 90s) taking them to local lunch clubs and church meetings, holding their arms, bags and coats, ensuring that they were strapped in and comfortable on the bus. On the journeys, they shared their stories about how illness had left them unable to traverse the hilly journeys around Horsforth and how thrilled they were that community transport enabled them to stay active and independent.
My heart was particularly warmed by how welcoming and chatty the passengers were and how much they clearly appreciated the service, which has been operating since the 1970s. One passenger welcomed us into her home so that she could introduce her daughter to Chris, while another entrusted him with the keys into her house to fetch the walking stick that she had forgotten on the way into the minibus, demonstrating the trust and appreciation between driver and passengers.
I also met up with volunteer driver Michael and volunteer treasurer Andrew, who shared with me the history of the organisation and the passengers they have had the pleasure of serving along the way. I had a truly wonderful time and it was a real pleasure meeting such lovely passengers and volunteers. I was able to see what community transport is like on the ground and experience the value it brings to people who would be stuck at home without it.
Bill Freeman, Chief Executive
Volunteering at Sheffield Community Transport
On Tuesday 4 June I was pleased to spend the day with Sheffield Community Transport (SCT), one of the main operators in my home city of Sheffield. My task for the day was to get out on the bus with a driver and conduct some surveys with passengers. These would give SCT a better insight into what passengers felt about different aspects of the service such as the booking process, getting on and off the vehicle and their relationship with the drivers. It would also provide ideas for where improvements could be made.
It made me think that asking volunteers to help with passenger surveys is a great way to get different people involved, especially groups who might not immediately be drawn to community transport. It could be sixth form or college students who want to brush up their skills in social research or marketing if they are thinking of a career that requires these or simply add something worthwhile to their CV.
It was also good to see a great range of small-scale daytime activities in neighbourhoods across different parts of the city – for adults with learning disabilities, lunch clubs, groups for people affected by stroke – and how integral community transport is to making each of those services function. It would be good one day to add up all the outcomes each of these enables for their beneficiaries and show them all together in one place as something community transport has helped achieve – perhaps something a volunteer could help with?
Christine Boston, Director for Wales
Volunteering at Accessible Caring Transport
For volunteers’ week, I spent the day with Accessible Caring Transport (ACT) which is based in Mountain Ash and serves passengers in the Cynon Valley. As you might imagine, the valley’s landscape is undulating with some very steep inclines which can be difficult to navigate for those who are fully fit so for anyone with poor mobility it is impossible to get around. Gone are the days of thriving valleys communities with a bustling local high street and instead, as everywhere, local shops are closing and the out of town shopping centre rules.
During my day with ACT, I was able to speak to passengers and volunteers who all told me that the service ACT offers is vital for the community because it not only makes sure people can get out but it also brings people together for coffee, chat and good times. Just after lunch, I went out in the minibus with Ian, one of the drivers, to pick up a group from the supermarket. As we drove around the estate to drop them off, they told me the local bus service had been cut and now only picks people up on the main road which is too difficult for them to get to. I was also shocked when they told me there is no local taxi service so without ACT they would have to rely on friends and family to go anywhere.
It was an honour to share that journey with them and see the care displayed by the drivers who loaded the shopping on to the bus and made sure they and their shopping were safely in the house after we dropped them back. The passengers I spoke to all said the service is under-utilised. “Mind you, we don’t tell anyone” they said, “because if we did, there might not be room for us!”.
Emer Murphy, Support and Engagement Executive (Scotland)
Volunteering at Lothian Community Transport
Imagine waking up each morning, unable to be spontaneous, to just decide to visit somewhere, see someone, run an errand or even go to the doctors. Many of us take this sort of thing for granted, but for many of the people who rely on community transport, this concept is very familiar. Last week as part of Volunteers’ Week I was given the opportunity to visit Lothian Community Transport, an organisation whose primary purpose is to deliver transport services to predominantly vulnerable groups within the community who otherwise might not be able to leave their houses at all.
During my time at LCT I could tangibly see the positive social and economic impact that this service provided for its users. A local woman who has been a regular passenger of LCT for the past five years described the service and staff as “magic as magic can be”, a statement which really warmed my heart. I found the service to be extremely efficient and staff were very welcoming and friendly.
During my visit I experienced a strong sense of community and a general air of fun and comradery exceeded throughout the day. Each passenger who entered the bus was exquisitely dressed, evident that this service has injected a sense of purpose and importance back into the lives of those who can be so frequently overlooked. Overall this experience reiterated that the essence of a human being is resistant to the passage of time.
Alison Owen, Project Manager, Connecting Communities in Wales
Volunteering at DANSA
Spending the day at DANSA Limited was a great experience! They were delighted to be offered a full day of volunteer support and I was excited to help out, asking what I could do that would make the best use of my day. Fortunately, I was able to prepare the L.K.S.G. Estimate which they had been asked to produce to enable them to make a claim for the reimbursement of mileage. Lack of resource meant they had not had the time to undertake this task.
Being able to do something worthwhile and tangible made me feel that I’d given something of value, supporting the hard working staff who go out of their way every day to ensure lonely and isolated individuals are provided with much needed transport solutions which allow them to take part in local events and access essential and non-essential services.
It was an enjoyable experience for me to offer my skills to support this local operator. CT’s like DANSA are at the heart of communities and the welcome I received from staff and service users was heart-warming.
Tim Cairns, Director for Northern Ireland
Volunteering at North Coast Community Transport
Set on the Causeway Coast of Northern Ireland, North Coast Community Transport serves a diverse community, from the Antrim Plateau, the holiday towns of Portrush and Portstewart to large urban centres of Ballymena and Coleraine. It was a privilege to volunteer in the community, helping school children get to their field trip, working with people as they travel to hospital and seeing first-hand the transformative care delivered in day centres. Transport was the means to get there, but it was also the start of the experience for everyone. For the men dealing with adult dysphasia, the conversation starts on the bus. The guys enthusiastically talked about the champions league final and I soon became the butt of the jokes when they discovered I supported Man Utd!
Driver Russell described how in his previous jobs he hadn’t spoken to people all day, now he regularly meets the same people, talks to them about their lives and sees them change, week-by-week as they are able to get out of their houses and live their lives. One passenger told me how he’d not been able to renew his car licence, but with his wife in hospital, over 15 miles from his home and not on any bus route, community transport was the only way he could get to see her. “Without the bus” he said “I would never be able to see my wife, life may have changed for us both, but because of this service we can continue to enjoy some time living together.”
That really is the essence of why the hard working staff at North Coast CT do what they do, helping people live their lives by travelling together.
Kira Cox, Business Development Executive
Volunteering at Burtonwood and Winwick Community Bus
As part of CTA’s Volunteers Week celebrations, I spent the day with the team at Burtonwood & Winwick Community Bus. They’re an organisation set up in autumn 2017 and ran solely by volunteers. As well as meeting and interacting with passengers, I was lucky enough to meet four of those amazing volunteers; Josh, Sarah, Ben and Ann.
All four of them had got involved in the service for different reasons, and it was really interesting to hear why. Ann for example first heard about the service when someone had told her it might be something her husband, who’s house-bound, could use to get out once a week. After she saw the enormous benefit it provided to him, she said she wanted to give something back. She now supports the team by doing lots of the administration! All of the admin volunteers do the work from home, which suits Ann who’s largely house-bound herself. It was wonderful to hear her talk about how giving up some of her time each week has helped her too because it’s opened up a whole new network of people for her to talk to.
And I can see why you’d enjoy talking to the team so much! Josh & Sarah both drive and passenger assist when they’re available, and the commitment to helping out their community came across in every conversation we had. It was certainly a minibus full of laughter for both me and the passengers. I got some great insight into the work our members go out and do every single day and I can’t wait to do it all again for Volunteers Week 2020!
Stephanie Riches, Support and Engagement Executive (England)
Volunteering at South Pennine Community Transport
As part of Volunteers’ Week 2019, I was delighted to give a day of my time to volunteer at South Pennine Community Transport as a passenger assistant.
South Pennine CT was formed in February 2015 following bus cuts to their local services. They run solely under section 22 permits, using six minibuses to provide registered routes in areas that have no local transport provision.
I spent my day with bus driver Paul on the on the number 25, the service takes people who live in the town of Penistone to their local Tesco’s, something which without the service they would be unable to do. The bus which goes into Tesco’s between 4 and 5 times an hour was jam packed with people who described the service as a lifeline, the bus was full of laughter and chit chat, with Paul knowing every single passengers’ name and what help and assistance they needed to make their journey as enjoyable as possible. One thing that really struck me was the story of Joan a woman in her 90’s who uses the service twice a week but doesn’t leave the vehicle, the service coupled with her concessionary bus pass provides her with her only means of a change of scene and conversation with other people.
I spend all day everyday talking to and about community transport services and getting out and volunteering with South Pennine CT was such a valuable reminder of the inspiring and socially necessary work our members do every day.