Harry Rogers speaks to group organiser Jackie Ames about coming up with new ideas and how she ensures that all of her members, no matter what their disability, enjoy her trips.
Tell us a little bit about your group Jackie
It started in 1970 (hence the name) as an integrated social club for people with disabilities, their friends and families. It’s affiliated with PHAB, a registered national charity for disabled people. My husband set up our particular group with some friends and it has grown over the years – it’s a very sociable group.
What type of trips have you organised recently?
We do like a theatre trip or two so in 2018, we had five trips to the theatre, including a couple of pantomimes. Boat trips are very popular with our group too, we did a weekend on a narrow boat mainly along the River Lea. We went around the east end of London, which is now very trendy, and even moored up overnight at Bow Locks where it goes out onto the Thames. We went on holiday to the Isle of Wight, visiting the steam railway and gin distillery, took a trip to Ramsey in Cambridgeshire in our 40s gear for their themed events and we also took part in a flying experience day, where some of our folks got to go up and fly a light aircraft!
It sounds like you’re kept very busy, how do you come up with ideas for trips?
I’m a great reader of information – in magazines and websites etc – I’m a retired librarian after all! I choose the familiarisation trips that I think will be possible for our group and they can be very helpful because you get to chat with other group organisers and pick up new ideas. The travel trade shows are also very useful – it’s all very much about chatting to people.
Do any particular trips stand out as being especially memorable?
We won money for our club and chartered an entire train from London Euston up to Blackpool where the Mayor of Blackpool met us. He took us to one of the rock shops where we had a giant rock made with the club’s name running through it. The tram cooperation up there gave us the use of their trams too! It was brilliant.
With your type of group there are extra considerations which must be challenging?
It can be, you have to make sure that the beds and hotel rooms are accessible of course. Most of our members are reasonably ambulant. We do have our own transport which makes life easier, so we don’t need to hire any vehicles. I have previously found that although some coach companies say they’re wheelchair accessible, it means they can get a wheelchair on board but expect the user to get out of the chair and into a seat, which isn’t always possible.
What qualities make up a good group travel organiser?
You’ve got to have a calm nature and a good sense of humour. You’ve got to be organised and take everything in your stride because things can, and do, go wrong. You have to keep calm for the sake of the group. I’ll be laughing or smiling to hide what I’m feeling inside sometimes!
And has there ever been a situation where things have gone drastically wrong?
We were on another Blackpool holiday when our coach caught fire on the M25. The driver said he could smell burning but I just thought the smell was coming from the vehicle in front. All of sudden he shouted, “we’re on fire!” so we pulled straight over and got everybody off. We had to get the AA out who repaired the problem so we could continue our holiday.
It must be very rewarding in your role – how does it feel when you’ve organised a successful trip?
It’s a lovely feeling when you know everybody is enjoying it, they’re all having a good time, a laugh and a joke together, it’s brilliant. I know all the folks get a lot out of it, but you don’t just do it for that. We’ve been doing it for years and we are just a really big group of friends; as far as I’m concerned, we’re just mates who go on holiday and on days out together.”
Jackie Ames’ group at a glance…
Group name: Unity 70
No. of members: Around 50-60 regulars
Time organising: 44 years