In 2013 the Mobility Roadshow celebrates 30 years of showcasing solutions to meet the nation’s mobility needs at the Telford International Centre (27-29 June). For those of you who weren’t there at the beginning, here’s a brief background to the UK’s most enduring consumer mobility event…
It seemed like a good idea at the time. Back in 1983 there was a modest range of vehicles and adaptations around to meet the needs of disabled motorists, but the opportunity to assess what was available and choose what suited you was virtually non-existent. Ann Frye, working at that time in the Department of Transport’s Disability Unit, recognised that this was a gap that urgently needed filling, and came up with the concept for an event to give disabled people the chance not just to look at what was available but also to try out different options.
The idea of the Mobility Roadshow was to provide a forum for manufacturers and adaptation companies to bring together a range of vehicles in one place so that disabled people could test drive them and make comparisons. The Transport Research Laboratory at Crowthorne in Berkshire with its impressive test track offered the perfect location. That first year the motor manufacturers were decidedly unenthused about the show and came along with little expectation that it would be worth their while. The adaptation companies and others in the mobility equipment field came with an altogether more upbeat approach. Some were very small companies keen to test a good idea for a product – perhaps developed for a disabled family member or friend – on a wider audience. At least one such company left the show with an order book full for the next six months!
For many of the people who came to that inaugural show, it was the first chance to get a proper ‘hands-on’ look at what was available and to talk to those in the business about their own needs. Even the most sceptical manufacturers admitted that it had been an interesting experience and that maybe it was worth repeating. From then on the Roadshow became a fixture on the Crowthorne site every other year, quickly growing in size, complexity and reputation. Over the years the show had a number of royal visitors, and in 1995 HM The Queen spent several hours touring the show and meeting exhibitors and visitors.
Realising that the show’s organisation was no small task, registered charity Mobility Choice was established in 1998, with grant aid from the Department for Transport, to take over the running of the event and quickly sought to establish the show as an annual rather than biennial event. Consequently the Roadshow has been held every year since 1999, outgrowing the Crowthorne site and moving to Donington Park for several years. Responding to the request to bring it back south the show moved to Kemble Airfield in Gloucestershire in 2006 and 2007. The Mobility Roadshow Scotland was added to the portfolio in 2004 and has subsequently run at the Royal Highland Centre every other year. In June 2008 the show made its debut at Stoneleigh Park near Coventry. By alternating the venues, the Roadshow has become available to a wider range of people across the country and has also brought a new, regional mix of exhibitors to the event alongside major national and international brands. The Mobility Roadshow has been successfully held at the East of England Showground, Peterborough (now known as the Peterborough Arena) for the last three years and is now scheduled to arrive in Telford during June 2013.
In recent years, celebrity visitors including Rolf Harris, Noel Edmonds, Tanni Grey Thompson, Ade Adepitan, Sir Stirling Moss and TV presenter Vicki Butler Henderson have been warmly welcomed to the event, and have been amazed at the incredible range of goods and services on offer.
The Roadshow continues to grow and develop year on year, adding lifestyle products, sports, accessible travel, advice and information services to its core goal of promoting independent mobility for all. Opportunity and choice remain at the heart of the Mobility Roadshow, and its fundamental ethos is to bring together a showcase of everything that’s new in the mobility market, with the chance for firsthand experience. Throughout the years, the show has seen companies come and go, or develop and expand – from that first line-up of exhibitors in 1983, we are delighted to see many companies and organisations that have been at every show and still exhibiting with us in 2013.
Thirty years on, Ann Frye who thought up and organised the first Mobility Roadshow and was responsible for the event throughout its early years has taken on the role of Chair of the Board of Trustees of Mobility Choice. Commenting on her new appointment, Ann who is one of the country’s leading authorities on mobility and inclusion, said: “It has been great to watch the Roadshow develop from very simple beginnings to an international showcase of vehicles and mobility products that attracts exhibitors and visitors from across the world. Most importantly, the range and quality of vehicles and equipment available to disabled people has grown too and there are many more disabled people now able to take control of their own lives thanks to the mobility solutions available. It’s been an amazing 30-year journey and one that still has many more miles to travel.”
The 30th anniversary Mobility Roadshow takes place on 27-29 June 2013 at Telford International Centre