Life beyond disability

Originally published in: Wiltshire Magazine

In the year when Devizes PHAB celebrates 25 years of its famous yellow buses, Tom Mellors finds out more.

Thirty-three years before David Cameron introduced the idea of a ‘Big Society’ in to British politics, a handful of people in Devizes formed a group to promote integration between disabled and able-bodied people in the community.

The club is part of the nationwide charity PHAB – PHysically Disabled and Able-Bodied. Since 1977, Devizes PHAB has grown to have 70 members. It organises regular social events and holidays and operates a remarkable transport program which helps over a thousand people each year.

The Community Transport Scheme, which celebrates its 25th birthday this year, was the brainchild of Michael Braund, 68, the Transport Officer for the club. Under Michael, the scheme has gone from owning one minibus to owning three minibuses with a fourth on the way this year.

“I would say we are probably one of the most active PHAB groups in the country,” said Michael, who has a disability which impedes his walking. “I think we’re the only PHAB group that actually owns 3 minibuses and does the transport scheme like we do.”

The club is right to feel proud of its transport scheme. In addition to transporting members to events around Devizes and on day trips further afield, they also run a ‘Shopper Bus’ program. The Shopper Bus is open to people in the Devizes area who are physically disabled, elderly, have special needs or act as carers. It provides a door to door service to and from Devizes, Salisbury, Swindon and Trowbridge.

The buses, which are driven by volunteer and paid drivers, have become vital to hundreds of people in the community. Michael Braund:

“The Shopper Buses have been running for 15 years and they have become a lifeline to a lot of disabled people. A large percentage of these people are in wheelchairs or on walkers and it’s their only means of actually getting out. So without the shopper bus and without our transport they would be completely isolated.”

Following the Government’s austerity measures there is a real fear that the funding which has enabled PHAB to run its transport program will be taken away. For the 1,200 people who use PHAB’s Shopper Buses each year this could mean a life of isolation.

“The scheme was supported by Kennet District Council until it folded and now we’re looking for funding to continue to project,” said Michael Braund.

“We hope to receive support from Wiltshire Council,” said PHAB Chairman Brian Lyons, 71, “but it is really going to depend on the Government cutbacks to see what is available.”

PHAB’s excellent transport program is just a means to the real goal of the club – encouraging people of all abilities to come together and have fun.

The club organises activities throughout the year to create opportunities for such integration. It offers free fortnightly swimming sessions at Devizes Leisure Centre during the winter, a weekly club night and occasional daytrips to London. Regular activities like these make an enormous impact on the members’ lives.

For some PHAB members, joining the club has been a life-changing experience. Anne Giles, 45, is registered blind and yet until recently Anne rode horses with the Riding for the Disabled Association.

“I went to the National Championships a few times and I also took my proficiency test for riding and stable management and I got up to silver level. Princess Anne presented the prize to me.”

Anne joined the club over 20 years ago and believes she has changed for the better because of it.

“I do get a lot out of PHAB and it has done a lot for me. When I first joined I was quite shy and ever so quiet but once I got to know a few people, it soon brought me out.”

Terry Gaiger, 69, is another member who experiences real benefits from PHAB. Terry has been using a wheelchair since he had a stroke but thanks to PHAB’s transport scheme he is as mobile as ever.

“I’m picked up from home and dropped at the destination. I’m also helped on the bus. It’s difficult for me to go out on my own, so that’s a great help for me.”

For Terry, just being a member of PHAB is a source of enjoyment: “Some of the happiest people you’ll ever meet are in PHAB.”

One of the most popular events in the year is the annual summer holiday.

“We’re going to the Isle of Wight this year for one week,” said Brian Lyons. “I think we have 42 people going. It’s a holiday camp, so we’ll be enjoying the entertainment there and we’ll arrange various outings around the island.”

“There’s a lot of work involved but it’s worth it in the end, because everybody gets so much pleasure out of being together for a week.”

Brian believes that such outings provide great opportunities for people to get to know each other.

“I think that once you get to know people and look past their disabilities, they’re real characters. We have great fun together; we’re a big family. Without getting together like this most of us would be quite lonely.”
Are you interested in joining PHAB? Would you like to become a volunteer driver? Would you like donate?

For more information contact Michael Braund:
Tel: 01380 870274


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