2023 is a special year for the Taxi Charity, so who better to tell us why, than London cab driver and its chairman, Brian Heffernan.
Why is 2023 so special?
Brian: We will be celebrating our 75th anniversary. And what a period for us to celebrate this huge milestone, when the country has the coronation of King Charles III to look forward to on 6th May. It’ll no doubt bring thousands of extra visitors to London, which will be great for the country and for us cab drivers. Indeed, one of the highlights of the charity’s history was in 2007, when veterans and volunteers from the Taxi Charity were invited to Clarence House by HRH Prince Charles.
Congratulations, 75 years is a huge achievement. For those who might not know about what you do, how did it all start?
Brian: It all began back in 1948, in the Bedford Arms in Fulham, when three cab drivers were sharing a pint and talking about what they might be able to do to support their friends who had been injured during WWII. The idea of a charity to support veterans began and they named it ‘The London Taxi Benevolent Association For War Disabled’. Later that same year, 25 taxis took 50 disabled veterans on day trips: one to Brighton and one to Worthing. And it is amazing to think that the charity has been to Worthing every year since (apart from during the pandemic).
When did your trips to the continent begin?
Brian: The first was in 1987, when the charity took 200 disabled ex-servicemen to Dunkirk. Then, a few years later in 1994, the charity organised a four-day commemorative trip to the Normandy beaches for the 50th anniversary of D-Day. For that trip to Normandy, 75 London taxi drivers were given the honour of assembling on Horse Guards Parade with 150 Normandy veterans. They were waved off by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, the Queen Mother and our charity patron, Dame Vera Lynn.
What a thrilling experience that must have been for everyone. How have things changed since then?
Brian: Well, in 2016 our name changed to the ‘Taxi Charity for Military Veterans’ which better reflects our aims to support veterans of all conflicts, and not just those who have disabilities or served in WWII. As well as our trips to Worthing and Normandy, we now also take veterans to the Netherlands and arrange many events in this country. And people may not know that we often help get veterans to hospital appointments or the airport. Our drivers often take veterans out for lunch. Most importantly, we support veterans of all ages and we were delighted to be able to assist by transporting VC and GC veterans to the Queen’s funeral last September. In December, we supported the charity Blesma by taking some of their ski team to T5. We are, I believe, the only veteran charity with the sole purpose to provide those we support with social events and fun to enhance their lives.
So, what’s planned for 2023?
Brian: As well as trips to the Netherlands to commemorate Dutch Liberation and to Normandy for the D-Day services, we hope to do an event on International Women’s Day this March, host a large party in the summer, have a table at the London ex-Boxers Association lunch, a joint outing with the Household Cavalry, a shooting and a fishing day, as well our much-loved day trip to Worthing and our annual Christmas lunch at Millwall. We will, of course, also want to continue working with the charity Waterloo Uncovered, giving us the privilege to take younger veterans to Belgium to participate in an archaeological dig.
Do you have the funding in place?
Brian – Sadly not. We have so much on our wishlist to celebrate our 75th but, like every charity across the UK, we were hurt really badly by the pandemic when restrictions cancelled all our usual fundraising activities. Late last year, we launched our '75 for 75' fundraising campaign, and hope that the trade will continue to support us and allow us to create some wonderful memories for veterans this year and beyond. We are very lucky to have some wonderful drivers who are committed to raising funds for us. Three intrepid (or should that be mad) cabbies, Stuart, Daren and Bob, set off on 3 January to row the Atlantic, which just blows my mind, especially as none of them had ever rowed when they decided to do this! Cab driver Colin Mills is doing a sponsored 135km walk along Hadrian’s Wall in May, and Taxi Charity treasurer Simon and I are planning a fundraising walk across the London bridges in summer.
How can our readers help?
Brian: We would be very grateful for donations of any size to our '75 for 75' fundraising campaign via www.taxicharity.org or www.justgiving.com/campaign/taxicharity75for75. Alternatively, if you are looking for a New Year’s Resolution, why not think about joining our volunteers or doing a fundraising challenge and give something back to the service men and women who gave so much for this country.
What’s for the future?
Brian: 2024 will also be a big year as it will be the 80th anniversary of D-Day and we want to ensure that any veterans who wish to pay their respects in Normandy are able to. Looking into the future, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could continue making a difference for the next 75 years too? Can I finish by wishing all your readers a very happy new year and give a special thank you to everyone involved with the Taxi Charity, including our drivers, supporters and donors. We couldn’t do it without you and we are so very grateful for your continued support.