I became involved with Community Transport in 1989 when Devon County Council wished to make better use of its small tail lift vehicles that transported clients to Schools and Social Service day centres. Devon County wished to optimise the use of the buses between 10am and 4pm when idle.
Phil Slater from DCC made a presentation to the Exmouth District Councillors about the scheme. I fully supported the proposal and was asked by the Councillors to see if it was needed for a service area of Exmouth, Budleigh Salterton, East Budleigh, Otterton, Colaton Raleigh, Woodbury, Woodbury Salterton and Lympstone. I visited all these Parish Councils and they supported it. Newton Poppleford wished to be included.
We had to raise £15,000 as our share of starting the scheme. I had a meeting with all the Parish and Town Councils and various voluntary organisations to discuss future funding of the scheme in partnership with Devon County Council and East Devon District Council. The Parish and Town Councils agreed to pay a grant from their parish precepts based on their populations each year.
I have always been aware, that many people due to a mobility problem, found it very difficult to travel anywhere by themselves or with an escort. We have rural areas that do not have public transport to access shops, hairdressers etc. The most satisfaction is when a person can get out of their home after being confined to it for some time. I remember a lady who rang me to say she was sitting in her kitchen looking out of her window and saw our bus go past – was she able to use it? I chatted and found out she was an elderly person in a wheelchair and had not been out of her bungalow for over a year. I said ‘yes’ the bus is for her and explained how she books herself on the journey. At the end of the phone call this lady was in tears and after a while she made sure her name was down for every trip or outing!!! I call our buses ‘care buses’ as many of the people who travel, are regulars and wish to know how Mr or Mrs is, as they were not travelling that day. Our drivers and co-ordinator’s are key to our success, they speak to the passengers, know where they live, if they have family close by and very often help them to contact other services they may need to improve their quality of life. We are often the only person they speak to all week or have the time to talk. We are the connection to the ‘outside local world’.
Over the years Community Transport has transformed peoples’ lives and more services are being provided. We now have 3 vehicles instead of one. Our passengers are our lead on the services we provide. We now organise trips, nearly always to a pub! Local lunches are very popular, so they can socialise whilst having a meal (not a metal foil dinner to heat in a microwave), so important to them all. We go the ‘silver screen’ at the local cinema, call in for coffee at the garden centre before going shopping. Most important is that our passengers feel safe with us and we can be trusted. People are the ones who matter, give us job satisfaction when we have been able to get them out of their ‘4 walls’, have time to chat and they have enjoyed their journey.
The biggest frustration is having to raise money to keep our services ‘on the road’. We are very grateful to all our Local Councillors continuing to support us all with a grant each year. Some councils have stopped these grants but not ours. Our local councils support residents having a good quality of life. Raising funds for ‘running costs’ is the difficulty as many organisations, trusts and the national lottery only give grants to capital projects or to specific programmes.
I find being a District Councillor an asset to meeting all Local Councillors, invited to launches of new services, that seem to forget people have to travel to them. For example; NHS gives you an appointment and you have to find your own way there – if no public transport is available, what are you to do? They have changed the criteria of Patient Transport so many people no longer qualify. In a rural County people do not have access or are able to get to the nearest bus stop to use public transport 7 days per week.
I qualified as a Residential Social Worker for Children and Young People but had to return home for personal reasons. I stood for the District Council as a relaxation from a job that was dead boring but gave me an income as I have always been interested in people and their welfare. It is a good fit. I also volunteer for Exmouth Lympstone Hospiscare and am a Governor of Exmouth Community College.
People matter, they may need help, advice and guidance and find it very difficult to ask a stranger. Many elderly people, who have had very full life, have a lot wisdom and are worth listening to. I believe it is our job in Community Transport to make sure any one, whatever their age should be able to have a good quality of life and not be left to exist behind 4 walls to become isolated and lonely. We will have to continue to fight for Community Transport for people to connect with the outside world.