The first encounter I had with community transport was through my grandparents. They live rurally and do not have access to public transport so the service provided to them by Lagan Valley Rural Transport has been an essential lifeline. But not just for my grandparents, community transport is an essential lifeline for so many people across Northern Ireland. Community Transport’s role in widening access to people living rurally, those with disabilities, older people and many others is incredibly important. It’s also of particular importance in Northern Ireland because the provision of public transport links is significantly poorer than the rest of the United Kingdom.
I’m incredibly excited to be joining the Community Transport Association as its new Director of Policy and Public Affairs for Northern Ireland. I believe that there are new possibilities to explore in gaining support and investment for community transport and I’m looking forward to meeting them head on.
In particular, the recent restructuring of departments in the Northern Ireland Executive to create the new Department for Infrastructure, presents a great opportunity to present Community Transport to Government in a new light. The changes in the Executive mean that policy relating to transport will likely be much more cohesive and less disparate- this is something that we can, and will, take advantage of. My own personal experience working in the Executive as a special adviser to the First Minister and the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment means that I know how it works and I’m looking forward to getting stuck in!
My new role is also about leading our team in Northern Ireland to support our members on a day to day basis- recognising the challenges they face, helping them in whatever way we can and making sure that what they do is appreciated and supported. I’m looking forward to meeting with these members, hearing more about what they do and taking on board their thoughts, concerns and suggestions about the future of community transport in Northern Ireland.
I was asked recently what my message to the CTA’s members in Northern Ireland would be. I said this: we need to be excited about the future. Community Transport, not just in Northern Ireland but across the whole of the UK, is going through a challenging time at the moment, with funding cuts meaning that we are being asked to do more with less. But we need to be optimistic about what we’re going to achieve. Optimism, determination and working together have made community transport the vital sector that it is today, and I’m excited to work with our members to move it forward!