Powys 4×4 Response (P4x4R) was set up in 2005 with the primary aim of trying to educate off road enthusiasts and greenlaners to respect the countryside and behave responsibly. Against a background of the NERC Bill becoming an Act of Parliament and the corresponding loss of a significant number of off-tarmac routes across England and Wales, it was evident that as a group, off road enthusiasts needed to clean up their act or risk losing everything.
The intention was to create an organisation which could potentially command a degree of respect from the general population whilst also creating opportunities for enthusiasts to use their vehicles off tarmac without incurring the wrath of people who had begun to resist the idea. At the same time it was hoped that the membership of P4x4R could be gently educated to adhere to the GLASS Code and also become involved in maintenance and repair projects as part of CRAG, GLASS and Tread Lightly initiatives.
P4x4R were quite fortunate that as a consequence of a presentation made to Powys County Councillors it was invited to meet with the CEOs of Powys County Council (PCC) and Brecon Beacons National Park (BBNP) and also the Chief Superintendent of Dyfed Powys Police (DPP) to discuss illegal off-roading. In looking for ways to engage and educate users, one of the options that was discussed at the meeting was the setting up of a 4×4 Response Group.
The then head of PCC set up a meeting with their senior Emergency Planning Officer (EPO) who was very supportive of the concept from the outset and attended an initial meeting with a few of the initial P4x4R members in Newtown where he encouraged us to recruit members and offered to support us in any way he could.
Through 2005 and 2006 we steadily built the membership of P4x4R up to around 30 and the EPO managed to provide sufficient budget to create a real-time Call Out system which could be operated from the PCC 24hr control room and which would send out blanket text messages to all of our volunteers. The volunteers were then able to sign on to the PCC intranet and log their potential availability over the next two weeks across 3 shifts per day. This enabled the PCC control room to deploy our resources based on vehicle and responder capability, location, and availability. The system proved very useful during periods of severe weather when many roads became impassable to normal traffic.
The types of task assigned to the Group included moving medical and social care staff to isolated and vulnerable patients and to their workplaces when they were unable to fulfil their duties using their regular vehicles.
The relationships that developed with the local and health authorities and emergency services as a result opened up the opportunity for P4x4R to gain access to Radnor Forest through Forestry Commission Wales to hold a training event. This was attended by over 30 volunteers and included various driving exercises as well as some First on Scene, recovery, and survival skills.
The following year P4x4R held its second event at Radnor which was attended by over 50 volunteers including a contingent from Hereford and Worcester 4×4 Response. We also had representatives from the EPO and DPP in attendance and some of the training was filmed by a BBC Wales film crew and aired on BBC Welsh News.
Around this time, in 2008, it became apparent that over 50% of the growing membership was based outside the Powys area, and whilst 4X4 Response groups were springing up across the UK, there didn’t seem to be anything happening in other parts of Wales. Under a bit of pressure from other Welsh authorities and the Welsh Assembly, we decided to roll the Group out to cover the whole of Wales. We formalised the Steering Group and appointed regional coordinators to build the local teams and develop relationships with the various authorities and EPOs across Wales. These included Local Authorities, Health Boards, Doctor’s Out of Hours Services, Emergency Services and other volunteer groups such as Red Cross and Mountain Rescue.
In 2008 we made an application for Registered Charity status and this was granted for 4×4 Response Wales (4x4RW). This was a positive step forward as it raised our credibility within the community and enabled us to raise some funds by various means. We undertook a number of activities such as helping out with parking and vehicle recovery at local music festivals and taking show visitors around 4×4 courses as passengers in our vehicles, splitting the money we raised with the Wales Air Ambulance.
By 2010 4x4RW had a membership of close to 200 volunteers from a very diverse range of backgrounds and professions. Whilst the original members generally had the common interests of greenlaning and off-tarmac driving to bind them, a lot of the newer members did not really have much off-tarmac driving experience. However, they did generally own at least one 4X4, had a volunteering and community support ethic, and were interested to learn how to use their vehicle off-tarmac and were also keen to support the community in times of need.
As the membership grew, the relationships developed and the credibility of the group was enhanced by positive media coverage. This opened up more training opportunities and training sites were identified with Forestry Commission Wales in North and South Wales and weekend training courses were rolled out to a broader audience, and the Group started to organise professional 4X4 Driving and Winching training with NPTC and LANTRA assessment.
As the Group’s training capability grew, we received requests from other volunteer groups and client agencies to provide 4X4 driver training for their own staff using our facilities and resources. This became a useful fundraiser for the Group also enabling us to hone the skills of our training team and to further develop our training programme.
One of the greatest difficulties in keeping volunteers enthused and engaged is ensuring that they feel that they are needed by the community and that they are getting something out of being part of the organisation. Over recent years all of our client agencies have been pushed to develop their own contingency planning and to try and ensure that their organisations can operate in any circumstances wherever possible using their own resources. This has had the effect of reducing the overall likelihood of the public authorities requiring our services except in the most extreme conditions. This means that in order to retain volunteer interest we can’t just rely on the possibility that we might get called out when it snows.
The Group is therefore well into the roll-out of a formalised Training and Development programme which offers volunteers a broad range of skills development opportunities together with exercises which combine navigation, off road driving, communication, first aid, risk assessment, vehicle recovery, teambuilding, and leadership. The Group is able to deliver these activities at an economical cost to members by using our own management and training resources wherever possible, and so costs are kept to an absolute minimum. In some cases we have also been successful in leveraging our charitable status to get sponsorship support and very good deals for accommodation and facilities hire.
The Training and Development programme also encourages more experienced members to get involved in mentoring and delivering training to new recruits.
The benefit to our volunteers is that they can attend one of our training events and have an excellent weekend crammed with skills development, plenty of off tarmac opportunities and, the ability to drive sites and routes that would otherwise be unavailable to them. They also receive tips and guidance from some very experienced colleagues and make a whole bunch of new friends with similar interests from diverse backgrounds – and all for little more than the cost of a tank of diesel!
Local and regional groups also organise regular greenlaning trips and visits to some of our forest and private sites in order to practice their driving, navigation and communications skills as well as developing a better understanding of the local geography which can be extremely helpful on Call Outs.
The Group is continually looking to welcome new volunteers and it is not essential to live in Wales to be a member. So long as the Volunteer can get to the Welsh border within a reasonable time and can be available for Call Out then they are welcome to join the Group and take part in the training and exercises.
It is also not necessary to own or drive a 4×4 to be a member. Like any volunteer group, there are plenty of non-driving roles such as co-ordination, administration, media management, vehicle crew, and so non-drivers are always welcome.
4×4 Response Wales