They are the best cab journeys passengers could ever take – days out which have transformed lives and provided magnificent and magical memories which last a lifetime.
Liverpool Taxi Drivers Children In Care Outing Fund is celebrating 30 years of organising annual trips for underprivileged children from across Liverpool and Merseyside – adventures which have seen big-hearted city cabbies take countless thousands of children to Blackpool Illuminations, Southport Pleasureland, Frontierland in Morecambe, Camelot in Charnock Richard, Gulliver’s World in Warrington, Butlin’s in Pwllheli, Knowsley Safari Park, Chester Zoo, numerous pantomimes – and, on two special occasions, to Disneyland Paris.
How did it all start?
“Our first trip was to Blackpool Illuminations in October 1985,” says Bernie, the group’s treasurer – who will head to Buckingham Palace on May 21 to receive an MBE from the Queen for services to charity.
But he stresses: “There were so many other founder members and people who did so much foot work in the early days of fund-raising, including my brother Ronnie, Billy Ellery, Davy Griffiths, Joe Burke, Reg Plunkett, Dave Pritchard, Tom Gallagher, Tommy Musker, Harry Manning, Eric Carroll, Alan Roper, Andy Hurst, Joe Byrne, Terry Turner, Maxine Bell and Tony Baldwin.”
Bernie, 70, from Stockbridge Village, adds: “The Liverpool Taxi Drivers Blind Children’s Outing had been going for a great many years – it still is – and I had joined them on a couple of their outings, but I thought other deserving children could be helped as well. I was put in touch with Liverpool social services and, while the first outing included some children who were in care and some who weren’t, social services later put us in touch with about a dozen different children’s homes.
“We’ve gone from strength to strength over the years and the credit belongs to the many taxi drivers who have come forward to help out. They have given up their time year after year and it’s all down to them, not me, that so many children have had so many great days out.
“About 40 to 45 drivers take part in each outing and there could be between 150 and 180 children on each trip. Including all the helpers, we’ll probably take well over 200 people each time.
“We’ve also had so much help from so many Liverpool businesses over the years. So many people have made all these trips possible and we are so grateful for all their backing and support.”
While he prefers to praise others, Bernie’s unstinting work over so many years has been formally recognised.
Bernie’s date with the Queen
The veteran fund-raiser is looking forward to his trip to Buckingham Palace to pick up his MBE on May 21, and says: “I must thank a fellow retired cabbie, George Stirrup, for nominating me for the award, and all those who supported his recommendation – including Merseyside chief constable Jon Murphy, Knowsley MP George Howarth, former Lord Mayor Cllr Sharon Sullivan, Mayor Joe Anderson and Sister Benedicte, manager of Clumber Lodge children’s home in Formby.”
Sister Benedicte wrote that Bernie had been an “inspiration”, and added: “Some of our young people, once they have left care, return for a visit and, when reminiscing, talk about Bernie and their wonderful trips out. With people like Bernie, who are always thinking of others, our children’s lives are so much brighter, especially after the traumatic experience they have endured before coming into care.”
Our day out – Thank you!
So many trips, so many special memories… and many of them are mentioned in the ‘Thank you’ cards and letters packed into Bernie’s two bumper scrapbooks.
As well as taking them to an attraction and letting them enjoy all the fun of the fair, the cabbies also lay on food, a children’s entertainer and, at the end of the day, give each child £10 (Bernie reveals: “The children, we have learned over the years, often put the money together to buy big items – like music centres and televisions – for their particular children’s home”).
One boy wrote: “Dear Taxi Drivers and Bernie, Thank you for taking us to Camelot. It was really an amazing day for all of us and it was really cool. My favourite ride was Nightmare because it was really scary – but awesome.”
And a girl wrote: “Thank you for the lovely time at Butlin’s. I went on the Boomerang, the canoes, the Umbrellas and the bumper cars. And I went to the disco. The chalets were lovely and at night after the disco me and my friend had a midnight feast. We had Pot Noodle and crisps.”
The late Jimmy “The Ticket” McEvoy, pictured with Robert Frost on an outing to Chester Zoo in 2001. Bernie Buxton says Jimmy, who died in 2006, was given his nickname because he was always selling raffle tickets to raise money for children in care. And he adds: “His three sisters are still heavily-involved with the fund to this day.”
Bernie adds: “I’m getting a lump in my throat thinking about all these nice cards and letters. And once, all the kids gathered around me and one of them said ‘We want to give you something’ – they’d had a collection and bought me a watch!”
Bernie had more than a lump in his throat by the time he told me this – he was crying.
The father of three, grandfather of nine and great grandfather of one adds: “All of us just want to put on a great trip for the kids – whether they are six-months-old or 18 years old – and it’s great to see the smiles on their faces.”
Making dreams come true
Bernie says: “Each trip will cost around £4,000 to £5,000 and as soon as we are back from one trip I’ll be planning to raise the funds for the next one. Our golf day – which has been supported by so many former Merseyside footballers, including Graeme Sharp, Dave Watson, Ian Snodin, John Aldridge, David Fairclough and Alan Kennedy – has been going for 25 years and we put on charity shows in the city, including at the Adelphi Hotel. As it’s a big anniversary year, we’ve currently got four events on the go!”
On two occasions – in 1995 and 2005 – the taxi drivers took youngsters to Disneyland Paris. Bernie recalls: “We went on the boat in ‘95 and then flew from Liverpool John Lennon Airport 10 years later. Going on the boat was a big adventure but it was something else when we flew to Paris – the kids were so excited and some were saying ‘Look down there! You can see our home!’ Being abroad for the first time is such a big thing for anybody, and all the kids had a wonderful time on those trips.”
And the fun isn’t over yet…
“I’ve got no plans to stop being involved in organising these outings,” says Bernie. “And the next one is already booked – Southport Pleasureland on July 29!”
Source : Liverpool Echo