Bringing People and Opportunities Together

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to Community Transport

The Full Story

Bryan Scrivener, now running a religious retreat centre in Wales, had two particular passions – a deep Christian belief and vehicles. By the late 1950s, he was living in King’s Heath in Birmingham with a Jeep and trailer – a fairly rare thing in those days. He had married Dorothy, a hospital social worker, specialising in mental health. They found themselves lending their “wheels” to other people, moving house, doing favours, helping out with transport for jumble sales, etc.

They agree that one particular thing triggered the next stage. Round about 1960/1, they saw a fundraising advert for Oxfam: Your attic lumber can save a child! The idea was to collect unwanted junk and take it to Oxfam in Oxford who would then sell it locally to make money for projects in Africa and elsewhere. Bryan and Dorothy turned their front room (which they couldn’t afford to heat) into a collecting station, until they could fill the Jeep and a trailer with stuff. The delivery was made, but that was just the start. Soon the front room was always full of stuff, and the couple began to live in the back room.

Round about 1962 came their first proper storage area, an old barn of the former Hodge’s dairy in what is now Druid’s Heath. The very first furniture supply was a response to a social worker from the Family Service Unit. Word got round in social work circles, especially those working with families in crisis who would often find themselves decanted into an unfurnished council house with no prior notice. Soon a mixed bag of volunteers began to gather round Bryan. They would put together complete packages of furniture for homeless people. The couple even sold their own house to buy their first new vehicle, a series 1 LWB Land Rover.

The incipient organisation, now called “Charity Transport”, as one or two photographs show, caught the attention of Birmingham Voluntary Services Council, and this eventually led to a new base on Bristol Rd. Quite remarkable in those day was Bryan’s appointment of Roy Green, a blind man whom they had moved into the 7th floor of a flat in Smethwick, as Transport Manager. Bryan describes how he punched out holes on a map along the main arterial routes in Birmingham so that Roy could learn by touch to route vehicle collections and deliveries; this was the Roy’s first ever job – he went on to get a doctorate.

By this time, social workers began to be a bit uncomfortable with the phase “Charity Transport” for such a key housing service. They were asked to change it, and Bryan hit on the idea of “Community Transport”, keeping the CT. As far as anyone is aware, this was the first use of the term in the UK. In early 1966, the charity was formally registered.

In 1967, the Project moved again to its first proper home at Beaumont Rd, Bournville. These premises contained an office, a much larger warehouse and enough room to cater for volunteers who came to the project from three main sources:

  • Gap year students (though not a term used in those days)
  • Community Service Volunteers – including several from Germany who could opt for community work in the UK as an alternative to military service
  • Police cadets on placement prior to full time training

Turnover was already growing with the first non-accessible 12-seater minibus (around 1969), more goods vehicles and a bric-a-brac shop on the Pershore Rd called “Tit for Tat”.

Recognition and growth

The late 1960s and early 1970s saw the Charity become very much part of the voluntary sector scene in the city, and recognition began to flow. During this period, the Charity had two successive Bishops of Birmingham as patron.

Other branches began to spring up – a second for north Birmingham; next came Bilston (Wolverhampton) and then Coventry. As growth came, the time came for having a paid Director. The very first salaried member of staff was an ex-manager from Cadbury’s, John Yeo. It was he who moved the HQ up to Poland St in Manchester in the mid-1970s to start up another Project, Manchester CT. At the end of the decade he would be succeeded by the late Norman Williams OBE, the much-loved Director who presided over the Charity’s rapid growth in the 1980s.

1981 was the next great turning point for the Charity – the International Year of Disabled People. This highlighted the shortage of transport options for disabled and elderly people. There was a huge surge in investment – and the Charity was at the forefront of innovation – administering several new Dial-a-Ride and Ring & Ride projects and National Advisory Unit for Community Transport, a research & development unit funded by the Department of Transport. The Charity became a company limited by guarantee just after its 20th birthday in 1986.

The Charity’s strength came from its status a national agency for the Manpower Services Commission’s Community Programme, a temporary work and training programme that provided labour and support costs. Numbers grew to more than 300 temporary employees by the time the scheme came to an end in 1989. The scheme’s closure led to a new future for Ring & Ride services and the creation of 2 new Charities, West Midlands Special Needs Transport Ltd and Greater Manchester Accessible Transport Ltd, which are now among the largest operators of accessible transport in Europe.

Renaissance and modernisation

The 1990s were a time of consolidation in the Charity as the number of projects dropped to just 6, 4 in the Midlands together with Salford and Newcastle. The vital work of furniture re-use and passenger transport continued, but investment and development was slow.

In 2000, after a strategic review, the Charity embarked on an ambitious programme of growth and development, exemplified by the recruitment of its first Chief Executive and the creation of a National Office, which moved to Dean Clough, Halifax in 2003. The Charity’s 40th birthday celebrations in 2006 brought in a new logo, as well as new premises in Birmingham, Sandwell and Wolverhampton.

The Charity delivered no less than 4 Urban Bus Challenge schemes in the West Midlands between 2002 and 2008, as turnover rose sharply from £1.5m to £3.8m. The minibus fleet trebled in size and there were new branches in Dudley – now one of the Charity’s largest – Newcastle West, Oldham, and Solihull. We have brought passenger services back to Manchester and Newcastle after a gap of some 15 years. Outputs have more than doubled across the board.

The Charity has also modernised and diversified its service offering. Income from traditional grant aid has dropped from 50% to less than 25%, but we’ve learnt how to run services more sustainably. At the heart of things is an emphasis on training and quality – and in 2008 we launched an ambitious new training initiative in the West Midlands, funded through the Big Lottery’s BASIS scheme. In passenger services we have introduced demand responsive services and voluntary car schemes. We’ve steadily increased the level of public service contracts – with a particular specialism in services for children and young people, such as the Pupil Referral Unit scheme in Sandwell and the 14-19 services in Wolverhampton. Furniture services are also on a growth curve, with new shops in the Midlands, new sites in Dudley and Solihull and fresh approaches to marketing and development.

Where next?

We now play a major role in communities that comprise more than 8% of the English population. That’s a great achievement for an organisation that started off with just one Jeep back in the early 1960s.

But it’s not the end of the story – we’re always on the look out for new ideas, new services and new partners to make an even bigger impact. Whether you’re looking for a paid or volunteer job, need some transport or want to find a home for some furniture, contact Community Transport and help us to help you.

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Father Brian Scrivener head shot v2

Early 1960'S -CT was founded by Reverend Bryan Scrivener.

1966 -The charity was formally registered and new branches were set up.

1981 -the International Year of Disabled People.

1986 -The Charity became a company limited by guarantee.