My name is Tim Mattocks. I have been a volunteer driver for Salcombe Minibus in South Devon for about 7 years and its chairman for 2.5 years. I hope you find the information below interesting, amusing and helpful. It is about the history of our minibus, how we operate it and why it is so highly valued by our community.

In the late 1970s, Salcombe Town Council had the idea of having a bus to help the elderly and frail residents of Salcombe travel in the hilly town, go further afield to do shopping and take longer trips to enjoy the beauty of the South Hams. Demands on the organisation grew and there was too much work to be managed within the council so a subcommittee was formed to provide the service. From 1976 the committee evolved to become a stand-alone organisation with representatives from the town council and organisations, such as the local care home, that had members who benefit from the use of the bus.

The committee was of Charitable status but not a formally registered charity. It operated under a Section 19 permit issued, in recent times, by the CTA. However, when the 5 year permit came up for renewal 3 years ago, CTA encouraged us to get the organisation on a more formally recognised legal footing. The permit was renewed but it was clear that improvements needed to be made before the next renewal would be needed.

In effect, the organisation at that time was an unincorporated body. Legally, such an organisation does not hold assets so there were issues about who actually owned the bus. Furthermore, the committee members were potentially legally liable if, for example, the committee was sued for any reason. Clearly, the informality of the organisation was making it, and the volunteers, vulnerable. It was not a robust legal platform from which to operate.

With the assistance of CTA, the Charity Commission website and the expertise of some committee members, retired lawyers and friends, we used one of the templates available to write a “Governing Document” which allowed the organisation to become incorporated and form a Foundation CIO (Charitable Incorporated Organisation).

The committee members then became trustees of the CIO and we were also able to register it as a charity. The whole process took about 18 months of spare time working but now we are a legally recognised type of incorporated organisation, the liability of the trustees is defined (Nil) in the governing document. Several other administration issues have become much simpler to handle and the publicity from being a charity has generated more donations from benefactors, upon which we are wholly reliant.

The bus can take up to 11 passengers or 8 with 2 wheelchairs plus a courier and driver. It goes on 6 shopping trips to neighbouring towns each month together with a weekly town run to the local shops & facilities in Salcombe. It also visits the town Health Centre and Over 60s club, known locally as the “youth” club! Each month there are one or two excursions to local attractions such as Dartmoor, Teignmouth, Tavistock, Newton Abbot market, shopping centres, garden centres, the RVS lunch club and an annual evening run to see all the Christmas lights in neighbouring towns. On the Christmas lights run, the passengers are getting out and about at a time when they would normally never venture out. They like to give the Christmas lights “marks out of ten”!

Although many passengers have bus passes and can travel for free on the local buses, the advantage of shopping using our minibus is that the courier and driver will help load the shopping at the supermarket and carry it into the house once home. Of course, the volunteers also check that a passenger is well and has not had a fall if they call to pick them up and they don’t come to the door.

Without the minibus, some elderly residents would not get out of their homes. The bus gives them the chance for a natter, spread the latest scandal about who has been cheating at bingo, discuss the unsavoury habits of the latest person to move into their care home and have a scowl at new buildings going up with their glass & steel modern architecture. “It shouldn’t be allowed” is a frequent cry. The bus is not just a form of transport but a social club on wheels…….. except when we visit a garden centre when it more closely resembles a greenhouse on the return trip; every available space filled with plants and…….on the last occasion, by special request, we found room for a water feature in kit form and some 8ft runner bean canes!

On visiting one garden centre, one of the passengers had collected vouchers for “buy one get one free” cream teas from promotional leaflets that had been delivered around the town. She handed them out to the passengers on the bus who duly teamed up, as did the driver and courier, to take advantage of the deal. Unfortunately, there were an odd number of passengers on the bus that day so the lady that had collected the voucher had no partner. When she arrived at the checkout she showed her voucher and explained that she had “no partner”. Taking pity, the supervisor gave her a cream tea for free! I felt that we were a bit like a plague of geriatric locusts arriving in the café! I sometimes think we have a bus load of senior citizens that received their education at St. Trinian’s. Woe betide any business that don’t deliver good service!

When I first started driving about 7 years ago, I used to try and work out the most efficient way to pick up and get the passengers back home, but what a mistake that was! The passengers soon put me straight. Even if they only live a few hundred yards from where they’ve been picked up, they want a tour around the town and maybe a brief stop at North Sands bay to watch people playing on the beach. When we come back from the supermarket in a neighbouring town, we sometimes drive along the old coach road. Because the bus is high, we can see over the hedges and stop at the ends of the creeks to check on the nesting swans. The road is very narrow and if we meet something, reversing can be tricky but they love the adventure!

Sometimes the passengers like to help by, for example, telling the driver the road is clear and they certainly let you know if you take a wrong turning. This can be helpful but I almost got caught out when I was told it was clear at a junction because the passenger offering the advice thought he could see but actually had severely impaired eyesight. They mean well, but one must never forget who has the responsibility to make decisions when driving!

In March, we took delivery of a new minibus costing £40,000, replacing our previous vehicle which was nearly 8 years old. The bus is operated by a team of 20 volunteer drivers & couriers and is our 7th consecutive vehicle in just over 40 years.

Because the bus needs low steps and a floor that allows seats to be taken out so wheelchairs can go in and be secured, an “off the shelf” minibus cannot be used. Instead, a plain van is bought and fitted with a false floor into which the seats or clamps for wheelchairs can be locked down. Many other adaptations are also made to make the vehicle appropriate for the passengers’ needs. For us, the conversion work is carried out by GM Coachwork www.gmcoachwork.co.uk near Chudleigh in the Teign valley (good for a pub lunch when we take it back for servicing the tail lift!).

The bus is funded by voluntary donations from passengers, local organisations, businesses, bequeaths from former passengers, funds raised at an annual cream tea and a grant from the town council. It is sometimes a struggle but we are fortunate enough to raise enough funds each year to keep the vehicle on the road and build up enough savings over 8 to 10 years, to replace the vehicle. This would not be possible without the generosity of all the individuals and organisations involved.

Funding is one issue needed to run the operation but the other element is the time volunteered by drivers, couriers and trustees of the CIO. Without the considerable time and effort which they donate for free, the service could not exist. I am very grateful for their support and their efforts are greatly appreciated by all the passengers that use the vehicle.

I keep telling the passengers that I’m just driving to build up my credit ready for when I need the service!

Pin It on Pinterest