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Ever wondered who's taking your calls and reading your mail?

Ever wondered who's taking your calls and reading your mail?

Mark Bryce describes life at the Disabled Persons Railcard office

You’ll find the Disabled Persons Railcard Offices somewhere between Dundee and Aberdeen, dwelling in the calm of the Mearns farming countryside. We’re split over two sites: one at Laurencekirk (which handles all the post) and another at Brechin (which takes all the phone calls). Of course, when you step inside either of our offices, the tranquillity of the surroundings gives way to a much busier vibe.

We call the Laurencekirk office the “Fulfilment centre”. As fulfilling as the work undoubtedly is, the business of the day here is the fulfilment of applications for Railcards. A team of just four people do this – two of whom are called Amy. Francis Sadio also works in the team: “We receive well over 200 applications every day from people either wanting to buy Railcards or with questions about Railcards and how to buy them”, said Francis. “As well as dealing with this incoming wave of work, we check and authorise applications, issuing over 250 Railcards a day.

View of the outside of the Brechin office“In September, we were working flat out renewing three-year Railcards to all those people who first bought them back in 2006 when they were first introduced. Three years on and the price hadn’t gone up – they’re a great bargain at £48, saving £6 on the cost of three £18 one-year cards. We’re all really keen to get cards out to people as quickly as possible so that no-one has any time without a valid Railcard”, Francis adds.

“We have a new letter folding and enveloping machine we’ve named Betsy. She greatly speeds up the whole process,” says Francis. “Also, we swap around the different roles in the office so that if anyone is off sick or on leave, a colleague can step in and ensure that customers don’t suffer any delays. It’s always busy and I normally just have a sandwich for lunch or whenever my break is – I work eight-hour shifts somewhere between 7am and 10pm.”

“When I’m calling Brechin…”
Calls from people who have picked up a Rail Travel Made Easy leaflet and want to discuss applying, go to the call centre in Brechin, a few miles south of Laurencekirk in Angus. Four essential pub quiz facts on Brechin:

  1. …..It’s got an 86 feet high Celtic round tower – one of only two in Scotland;
  2. …..The football team is nicknamed “City”, as Brechin has a cathedral, even with a population of only about 7000;
  3. …..Robert Watson-Watt, radar pioneer, was born in Brechin;
  4. …..It’s a stone’s throw (or wand’s wave?) from Kirriemuir – where Peter Pan author JM Barrie came from.

Call centre manager, Stephen Pryde, is a relative newcomer to the Disabled Persons Railcard team but likes their style: “We’ve a top team who are always doing their very best for people interested in buying Disabled Persons Railcards, or helping anyone with a query about their card.”

Stephen continued: “We put our information people through an SAS-style training programme to make absolutely sure they know what they’re talking about. I wouldn’t blink twice if I was watching Mastermind and saw one of our people winning it - specialist subject: Disabled Persons Railcard.”

“A cultured bunch”
“Of course we’ve got to get the right sort of person in the first place, able to handle call centre work. That’s vital as we’re dealing with over 250 Disabled Persons Railcard calls a day. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but we work hard and get on well with each other. The call centre team includes Kevin, Elara and Ashley, who won the 2009 UK Call Centre Hero of the Year award. We also won a Tayside Company Culture award, so we’re certainly a cultured bunch!”

Away from the office, Stephen, who lives in Fife, is a Dunfermline football club season ticket holder: “We’re not one of the giants of Scottish football, but on our day are more than capable of beating the big teams like Rangers and Celtic.” Stephen’s a dreamer.

Head of Fulfillment is Shaun Barrie: “The team work very well together and I know that card holders appreciate this. The recent long spell of snowy weather has been a big challenge – even for North East Scotland - but we’ve made sure the service has not suffered.

“We’re committed to ensuring that as many entitled disabled people as possible are aware of and using the Disabled Persons Railcard, along with all the discounts and freedom to travel this enables people to have.”

“If there’s a Disabled Persons Railcard advert in a magazine with a big readership, Brechin can get more calls and before you know it, here in Laurencekirk we’re having to issue hundreds of Railcards at short notice.”

And as at work, so at play. When the day’s done the Laurencekirk and Brechin Railcard teams get together and go go-karting.......or indeed fund-raising for a worthy cause.......the teams were recently thanked by Parcels4Troops for their donations to support British troops in Afghanistan. “Due to the generosity of call centre and fulfillment people, we donated 15 boxes of sweets, dried food, batteries and other very useful and much appreciated treats” said Laurencekirk team member, Fiona Mackay. “They’re small items but make a real difference to their lives in a hot and often inhospitable climate.”

From issuing Railcards during a snowy Mearns winter, to the heat of Helmand, the Disabled Persons Railcard Offices provide great support.

The Disabled Persons Railcard Team celebrate winning the Talking Tayside Award