Manoeuvres at Margam

A fine sunny day in late April. That is what we had been aiming for — advance planning a year ahead had selected the optimum time for the Glamorgan Federation of Women’s Institutes, to access an IAM Roadsmart driving skills day with Swansea Bay Group. The team had spent a considerable time with the WI devising a range of activities to create an interesting, interactive and fun day, hosted on Friday 27 April in the glorious grounds of Margam Park in Port Talbot.

Inputs were arranged from our Area Service Manager, Robbie Downing, “Motorways – things you might like to know” and from IAM RoadSmart’s Driver and Rehabilitation Manager, Sarah Fisk. They each provided a stimulating start to the day and gained the trust, engagement, and interest of the two groups of WI members. Robbie’s talk had an unforeseen impact as we learned at the end of the day that one of our own members had been involved in a motorway incident en-route and was recovering in hospital. With such squally weather and high winds, we were fortunate that so many braved the weather to attend and have a spirited go at activities. Sarah really lived her job about the dangers of alcohol and driving and no one in the audience would now dream of letting alcohol pass their lips before getting behind the wheel.

A range of other activities was also available – spotting potential hazards in a car filled with everyday detritus in the footwell and on the rear shelf, as well as a windscreen plastered with parking tickets; an eyesight test with sample number plates kindly loaned by the DVLA; and a low-speed manoeuvring exercise in the car park — where delegates were conscious of our team’s focus on appropriate praise, encouragement, and reinforcement of good practice.

We were delighted to welcome a representative from nearby Nissan dealers Bassetts Swansea. Ian Thomas ably demonstrated the safety and driver-assist features of modern cars, demystifying matters like satnav, Bluetooth®, automatic wipers, colour-coded under-bonnet self-check items and so on. He patiently answered many questions, indicating a real desire by participants to enhance their motoring confidence.

The highlight was the optional observed drive – we had expected a fairly low uptake but the fact that the vast majority of participants sought feedback on their driving was a testament to their desire to improve and the ethos our team had created on the day – a ‘can-do’ mindset and positive atmosphere. A carefully-devised nine-mile circuit took delegates along a winding A48, through Pyle village’s busy road junctions and on to the M4, past the billowing windsocks by the exposed coastal reservoirs, before back past fields of gambolling (and potentially distracting) lambs. The dreadful weather of the morning did not seem to deter participants.

So, how did it go? Participants praised the open and friendly approach, the variety of activities. “They all loved the car experiences” according to Pam. From our own members, the feedback was equally positive, praising the involvement of WI ladies in all that was offered.

Our team, led on the day by Treasurer Caroline Wassell (herself a WI member), rose to the occasion magnificently, repeating the session in the afternoon for another group. Thanks go to Robbie and Sarah of IAM RoadSmart for their unswerving support and commitment, to Bassetts Nissan, to Pam Dinham and her team at WI’s Federation for all their hard work in recruiting such healthy numbers, to Carol Shergold of Gwent Group for generously giving her time and, of course, to our own members for selflessly giving up their time and energy for such an event devoted to enhancing driver behaviour and road safety.