The Driving and Mobility Centre in Bristol has achieved 25 years of providing assessments and accessible services to disabled and older people.
Initially established as a volunteer-led Disabled Living Centre (DLC), to demonstrate wide-ranging adaptive equipment and disability aids, the centre now focuses on specialist fitness-to-drive assessments along with other services regarding independent mobility.
As a Community Interest Company, it is accredited by the national charity Driving Mobility, which oversees twenty independent organisations across the UK. Each centre offers professional support and driving assessments to people who need to gain, or retain, the ability to drive following a diagnosis involving impairment or disability.
Daniela Meucci, centre manager, said: “We are delighted and proud to be celebrating this significant milestone. Our original DLC remit – ‘to maintain the provision of information and assessment for equipment to support independent living’ – continues to hold true today.
“Our team has helped vast numbers of locals living with restricted mobility to enjoy more independence and inclusive lifestyles. Despite financial struggles in the past, we have been able to grow our services whilst maintaining quality and professionalism.
“Today our driving, passenger, vehicle adaptation and mobility scooter assessments are delivered by highly experienced OTs (Occupational Therapists) and ADIs (Approved Driving Instructors). These diligent and dedicated professionals support people who refer themselves to us or are referred via Health Professionals, the DVLA, Motability, and the Police.
“Through advanced checking that includes motor, sensory and cognitive function, we are able to enhance safety on the road not only for our service users, but all highway users.”
The Bristol centre began as a voluntary Disabled Living Centre (DLC) which was one of the first services managed by disabled people. Despite challenging finances, it was determined, and had ambitious ideas, aiming to offer informed and impartial advice with equipment displays so locals living with restricted mobility could discover ways to enhance freedom.
Later that year there was a funding breakthrough when a grant from Avon Social Services and Bristol City Council, allowed the DLC to establish premises at The Vassall Centre, where the Centre remains today.
Assistive product suppliers were supportive in providing daily living equipment for this new accessible and spacious venue – allowing displays and services to be expanded. Work progressed, including a project to pilot a Driving Service, an accessible garden, a wheelchair testing area, clothing support, multi-media library and open days.
In 1998, the driving service was consolidated with funding from the National Lottery Charities Board. A part-time OT and peripatetic driving instructor were employed so that a more comprehensive service regarding adapted driving could be provided. The facilities were enhanced with an indoor vehicle area and a static driving rig for more detailed driver analysis.
In 2012 local authority funding was lost and so significant streamlining of the DLC service was implemented – hence a focus on driving and mobility assessment became the core service thanks to continuing Department for Transport support.
Today, the Driving and Mobility Centre (West of England) continues to grow and develop. The Centre’s specialist team provides professional advice regarding vehicle adaptations, driving controls, wheelchair accessible vehicle solutions and equipment loading options. In addition to its headquarters in Bristol it has established outreach centres in Yeovil and Weymouth.
Meucci concluded: “Our survival in the face of various funding battles over the years highlights the strong commitment of staff and exemplifies the support we have received from our local community and the Department for Transport.
“If we can maintain long term funding for the vital services we provide, I am confident about the future, and we will continue to instigate sustainable strategies to help more people, more older drivers and disabled drivers, benefit from independent mobility, and safe, confident driving.”