In line with Deaf Awareness Week - 4th to 9th May 2021 - we caught up with one of our drivers, Goff Rowe, who is qualified at Level 2 in British Sign Language (BSL). Goff spends his time working with CT Passenger in Bilston, as well as volunteering with Sandwell Deaf Association.

When and how did you start with Community Transport?

I started back in 2002, when I was looking for driving jobs at the time and saw Community Transport advertised in the newspaper. I went for it, applied for Dudley CT and was offered a job in Sandwell. I wasn’t nervous at all – it was one of the easiest interviews I’ve ever done! I started out by driving passengers on a prison visiting service, mainly, and I’ve never looked back. Nowadays, I do the school run for Westcroft school in Wolverhampton every morning and afternoon. Once the lockdown restrictions are lifted, the trips out for our day centre CT Passenger users will start up again and we’ll be making more local trips out into the community.

What inspired you to learn British Sign Language?

I’ve always been interested in learning BSL and started off by watching some YouTube videos to pick up the basics. I started going to evening classes at a school near Dudley about two years ago, because I wanted to give something back and help people as much as I could. I completed my Level 1 – it wasn’t easy, but it was fairly basic, and then I started my Level 2, which was a lot harder! The homework and conversation were a lot trickier – at one point, I nearly stopped going to the classes, but my teacher, Ian, was fantastic and really helped me out. I managed to pass Level 2 with some decent scores and getting that certificate at the end made me very proud.

How do you use BSL now?

I volunteer with Sandwell Deaf Association – I am paired up with a brilliant gentleman named Carl, who is profoundly deaf. Now restrictions have eased, I help him out in his allotment for a couple of hours a week. We have little conversations together, and Carl is very patient with me when I don’t understand things at first. I’ve really enjoyed myself, and the actual centre is set to open up again in June, where a deaf café is hosted every month. I am looking forward to going there because it’s a great chance to practise my signing and meet new people, as well as helping others.

Have you ever used BSL whilst working with CT?

I have, once. CT Passenger Birmingham were looking for drivers, and one of the applicants was deaf. I was asked to go over and help out. I ended up taking him out on his driving assessment, giving him directions, which I’d done in Level 1. I also helped out in the interview process, which I was a bit nervous about – I wasn’t too confident in BSL then! Luckily, the applicant was very patient with me, and finger spelt things out slowly if I didn’t understand them. Unfortunately, he couldn’t do the hours required due to prior commitments, which was a shame because he was a fantastic driver and a lovely chap.

What advice would you give to someone wanting to learn sign or improve their communication with the deaf community?

If you wanted to learn to sign, I’d recommend watching videos on YouTube – there’s loads of little clips and it gives you some confidence before going to actual lessons. The deaf community are very helpful: they’ll always slow things down for you to understand and are willing to help you out with anything you are struggling with. I’d advise everyone to go out and learn the basics of signing, as you never know when you will need it – it’s just like first aid. A lot of deaf people feel isolated, especially out in public, so if you do communicate with them, make sure you use lots of facial expressions and try not to cover your mouth so they can lip read. If you wanted to get their attention, try to get in their line of vision, or bang on a table near them, as they can hear the vibrations. The best thing you can do is go out there and learn the alphabet to start with, and then at least you can spell things out to people and build on it.

Check out Community Transport’s social media feeds for a video of Goff using his sign language skills in practise, as well as more information on Deaf Awareness Week 2021 – ‘Coming Through It Together’. CT Passenger Twitter.  

More about the charity Community Transport:

Community Transport are a self-funded National charity, which for over 50 years has been providing essential services and support in local communities. 

The long-established charity aims to bring people and opportunities together to transform lives and build better communities. It has been helping to create a better everyday life for local people since 1964. It provides support for those who need a helping hand, or are feeling vulnerable or isolated through the activities of its two main divisions: CT Passenger and CT Furniture.

CT Passenger provides a caring specialist transport service to improve people’s quality of life, delivering services in several local authority areas. It runs a fleet of wheelchair accessible minibuses and provides journeys for people with physical disabilities and for those who struggle to get out of the house. 

It runs a fleet of 29 accessible and 14 non-accessible minibuses in the West Midlands and North East, with over 80,000 passenger journeys made since the beginning of January 2020, covering over 650,000 miles. 

CT Furniture aims to provide people in need with access to affordable furniture. It does this through furniture donations, anything from small electrical appliances through to beds, sofas and wardrobes. These items are either reused in the local community or are resold through the network of shops or via the online shop. All with the aim of encouraging furniture re-use and reducing the number of items going to landfill. 

All surplus funds raised through these sales of furniture are used by the charity to help support more people, whether that is by providing household items, transporting those with mobility issues or taking those isolated for their shopping. 

CT Passenger has sites in the West Midlands in Birmingham, Coventry and Wolverhampton. The North East is serviced from its depot in Newcastle. 

CT Furniture has four retail stores in the North East of England, across Newcastle, in Blyth and Peterlee. It also has branches in the West Midlands in Birmingham, Bilston and West Bromwich. The national office is based in Brighouse in West Yorkshire.

Always looking for help:

The charity has a number of volunteer opportunities and are always looking for help from those who have time and are looking to make a difference in the local community.

In return, volunteers gain work-based skills that can help when it comes to finding a job. There is also the opportunity to meet new friends and be part of something worthwhile.

CT Furniture is a division of the Charity Community Transport Reg. Charity: No 247331.

Helping create a better everyday life for local people since 1964.