Back in 2015 Blackpool Transport made the brave move to integrate a group of volunteers into the Heritage operation. Although this is common knowledge, what is less known are the ways the Volunteers work within this structure. With the approval of BTS Head of Heritage, Bryan Lindop, I have the opportunity to put some words on 'Tramtalk' in order that the 'volunteers' can be fully 'understood'.
All the way from Alsace - Peter stands by his charge.
I was fortunate to be among the first group of volunteers to be trained in 2015, and our 'Class of 2015' became the first tranche to work on the tramway. Since then further classes have been held and at the end of the current season we number almost sixty in total. All applicants are required to sit the same entrance assessments as paid staff; and if they are successful training is then undertaken to the same level as paid staff, to ensure that high standards are maintained across the board. Volunteers consist of people from very varied backgrounds, from students through to company owners. We also have a few former tram drivers and as well as a few current BTS employees who come onto the Heritage operation in their free time. In fact BTS MD, Jane Cole, was in the 'Class of 2015'. They also come from different geographic regions. There is a myth on social media that volunteers should be reasonably local. The reality is very far from this. Many travel significant distances to come to Blackpool; some as far away as the south coast. I hold the record (so far) of distance covered as I live in the Alsace region of France with a round trip of 2400 kms (oops 1500 miles). Of course there are several volunteers living fairly local with only a few miles to the depot at Rigby Road.
Due to the way in which volunteers are located, their scheduling varies. Those who live locally in the area tend to work one day here and one day there. From further afield means they come to Blackpool for several days at a time; thus working a block of dates. It can also depend on the principal job of a volunteer; for example one member is a school teacher and therefore has significant availability during school holidays.
In all case volunteers 'sign on' at Rigby Road for their shift. In most cases this is from 0915 until 1745 including a scheduled meal break. Considering that this is a full work shift it is far from the view of some social media warriors that this is just a relaxing day 'playing' trams. Taking into consideration that many volunteers carry out their commitments on their days off, and in conjunction with regular employment, their working weeks can be somewhat long. Being on your feet all day can be a shock to the system for those who are not used to this and of course significant interaction with the public is needed. So all in all it can be both physically and mentally tiring.
Heritage Volunteers work alongside regular employees of BTS under the same conditions. The only difference is that although regular employees could be working either Flexity of Heritage operations - the volunteers only ever work on Heritage trams. There has been one notable exception to this which occurred in February 2015 when two volunteer leaders, Martin and Gary, worked the St Valentine's Day specials. The 'Class of 2015' were trained on the electronic ticket machines (including the necessary sign on card needed for these units). From 2016 Heritage operation had already passed on to the new 'souvenir' Heritage tickets. Again to kill off some more social media myths, the relationship between volunteers and regular BTS staff is very good; with little difference being made between us all. To finish this piece I refer to a quotation on the wall of the Heritage Department Office which somes up very well how the volunteers are viewed at BTS :
'A volunteer is not paid because they are worthless but because they are priceless'.
I believe that the Heritage operation in Blackpool will over time come to set the benchmark for other similar operations which emerge. I would like to take this opportunity to thank both BTS for giving us the opportunity (in no small way due to the input of MD Jane Cole), but especially the rest of my volunteer colleagues for making the operation possible. A big round of applause for all!