I’m Ross Cathcart and I’m the newest addition to the CTA. When you get past the rather grand title of ‘Business Development Executive’, my role is essentially to ensure that the services offered to CTA members are doing what they should and getting to the right people. I will be getting in touch with some of those members to allow them to comment on things like CTA’s website, its advice line and its training courses. This discussion will hopefully ensure that the great aspects of CTA membership are further enhanced while any problems can be identified and resolved.
But discussion of member’s wishes and needs cannot only be conducted by email in the CTA office; it cannot be conducted in just Manchester: CTA is a national organisation that represents community transport operating right across the length and breadth of the UK. As much as this blog is my introduction, it is also a chance to showcase one of these inspiring organisations that I have met in the short time I have been with CTA: Preston Community Transport.
First putting wheels on the road in 1988, today Preston CT is managed by Joe Hannett and operates in five districts around Preston. “Our services are in huge demand,” Joe told us as he showed us around Preston CT head office in Preston city centre. “When people first hear about us, they often don’t understand what the community transport sector does but, when we explain to them how our work can relate to their life’s problems, they want to hear more.” With the huge range of services on offer, it is not hard to see why. Preston CT operates seven vehicles which are used to run day-trips for members in and around Lancashire but are also available for use by other local, not-for-profit groups and organisations to supplement their services. Preston CT runs a Dial-a-Ride and Community Car service which made over 22,850 journeys last year for individuals that would normally travel on public transport with either extreme difficulty. When we visited, almost all of Preston CT’s 22 mobility scooters were out on loan, enabling people to go about their business independently and easily. They even have collapsible scooters to be used on holiday! So many residents of and visitors to Preston, whose health, circumstances or location deny them access to traditional modes of transport, depend on the accessible and inclusive alternatives provided by Preston CT.
Preston CT’s work does not come without its problems. It has experienced many of the difficulties shared by our sector in an age of slashed public budgets and squeezed local government expenditure. Four years ago, Preston CT was funded £30,000 annually by Preston City Council. Now it receives no grant funding from them. Similarly, Preston CT has had strong relationships with many officials at city and county councils but local government restructuring under austerity routinely brings in new faces that don’t understand the contribution that organisations like Preston CT make to the community. It’s a familiar story to community transport services: tightening budgets and question marks over the long-term viability of services.
Preston CT, however, have demonstrated that these circumstances are not entirely out of their control. They have utilised this situation to diversify their work and their sources of funding, producing innovative and creative solutions to this difficult financial climate. They are located next to the only Blue Badge car park in Preston city centre. They are exploring the possibility of renting out some of their outside area for an Amazon Pick-Up Locker. Preston’s Business Improvement District team is now based out of Joe’s old office and the meeting room is regularly rented to local charitable organisations for their outreach programmes. In April 2015, Preston CT helped to establish Lancashire Community Transport, a group of five community transport providers who came together to grow and tackle the issues they faced collaboratively. Reimagining the role and remit of community transport organisations has been essential to Preston CT’s survival. Future plans focus on further embedding the organisation in the life of Preston City: investigating cycle hubs, changing places toilet facilities, car sharing schemes and possible other ventures to position the charity as an essential part of the life of its community for years to come.
Recently, CTA has been discussing how community transport can emphasis its ‘pro-social’ credentials; in other words, how our sector can work collaboratively and innovatively to ensure that we continue to prioritise producing results that have the greatest and widest impact across the communities we work with. Preston CT is an example of how the community transport sector can not only deliver but expand on these pro-social aims and use difficult circumstances to provide new ways to deliver our essential services.
If you would like to speak about the work that CTA is undertaking in reviewing its membership and services, please get in contact with Ross at firstname.lastname@example.org.