20 Years ago, I was in the final months of running and developing the JumpStart Project for the Gloucestershire Rural Community Council before I moved over to Shire Hall at the beginning of the following February.
I’d been with GRCC for a couple of years and really enjoyed developing new services for a Charity project operating around the rural Districts of Gloucestershire that helped unemployed people who were trying to access jobs or training and couldn’t get there because they didn’t have any transport.
We were already lending out mopeds and bicycles, as well as buying people their first weekly bus ticket or just opening another door to someone else who might be able to help them.
I was looking for creative ways to provide more options for the people we were helping, that would also encourage the local Councils and our existing partners to keep supporting us by experiencing even better results.
One day, I saw an editorial for what may have been the first or certainly one of the very first companies to start importing battery powered bikes into the UK at the time. You may not believe it, but sustainability was already a big thing outside of the mainstream and I quickly concluded that these bikes were just the thing that we needed and really would provide a win-win.
The funders I approached agreed with me too. In fact, our main partner on this new offering was the local Rural Transport Partnership who had recently taken on a PR guy called Stuart Bexon, who I still suspect had got lost on his way somewhere else and thought he’d just have six months out whilst he was here and see if he could humour the public sector in some way.
When I met Stuart for the first time to talk about the funding we’d just won, we hit it off in comical style and it felt like a meeting of caper-driven minds and a bit of a coming home.
Very keen to make the best of the opportunity for publicity that we realised we had; we bantered our way through one of the funniest brainstorms you could imagine.
Armed with the sense that we had been tasked to promote the concept of integrated transport in its most literal form, we soon concluded that the best way to do so would be to take a fold-up battery powered bike around the whole of Gloucestershire’s Public Transport network – with yours truly dressed as Santa Clause.
Over three days in mid-December 2001 using the borrowed Toyota Prius ‘support car’ that Stuart had blagged from Bill Allen Toyota – the Cheltenham Toyota Dealer at the time, we set about delivering on our ridiculous – but very successful plan.
The local media absolutely loved it. Wherever we ended up or passed through, a reporter or journalist wasn’t very far away and the picture here that I borrowed from the Countryside Agency Publication ‘Two Wheels Work’ was taken on Cheltenham Promenade shortly after we ended what I believe was the final day at the front door of John Dower House – which was the base of the CA at the time.
I think my only (possible) regret was the look of bewilderment on the face of a very young child when they got on to the bus to Cirencester at the next stop after we started in Tetbury and sat opposite Santa for the whole journey. It was quite clear they were wondering where the hell the Reindeer and Sleigh had gone and why Santa had turned up early riding on the same bus with his giant arm draped over a fold-up bike!!!