• Serving the Community: Friendly Bus

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    Community transport is a sector that goes above and beyond to serve communities all over the UK. Day in and day out, our members are lifelines for their passengers, connecting them to the people and places they rely on. 

    But with the vast majority of their usual passengers having to stay home, and with doubts over funding and availability of staff, the sector, like so many others, is going through a difficult and uncertain time.  

    Yet in the face of this, we’ve seen community transport doing what it does best: stepping up in times of adversity and serving their communities. At CTA, we want to tell the stories of the organisations who, where they can, are reaching out and supporting those in need. Take a look at the story of one of our members below and read more here. 

    Friendly Bus


    @theFriendlyBus |friendlybus.co.uk/

    “Coronavirus has tuned our organisation upside down,” said Marie Monk-Hawksworth from Friendly Bus, a community transport provider based in Shropshire. “We’ve had to adapt to our passengers’ needs, change the way we operate, the services we offer, and take on a new unexpected role. We’ve known our passengers for a long time, we know their names by face and they’ve become our friends. We’re emotionally invested in their wellbeing.”

    Due to the age group and vulnerability of their usual passengers, Friendly Bus took the decision to suspend their usual journeys just before the Government announced its lockdown measures. “It was heart-breaking repeatedly explaining why we could no longer take them to the supermarket or to see their friends,” said Marie. “The aim of our charity is to combat isolation and loneliness and our bus service can often be the only opportunity for social interaction they have each week.”

    “Another important role for us that has emerged, however, is looking after the wellbeing of our passengers in whatever way we can. Our volunteers are collecting and delivering shopping and prescriptions to residents, we have our friendly voice volunteers making regular phone calls to our passengers, and doing more in-depth welfare check-ins for the most vulnerable. Whilst we’ve seen most cancelled or changed to a telephone appointment instead, we’re still running essential medical journeys for those who need them the most, but for all journeys we’re adhering to strict cleaning and social distancing protocols.”

    Friendly Bus are also using their resources to support the wider community. They’re part of a coronavirus support group set up by local residents to answer and respond to calls from those seeking help, their five minibuses have been offered to local councils, foodbanks and community groups and they’ve recently started working with the Foodshare project to deliver weekly food parcels to residents. They’re also in discussion about how they can help deliver hot meals to individuals or families in temporary accommodation without any cooking facilities.

    “We’re continuing to monitor the situation, the needs of our passengers and the local community,” said Marie. “As a charity that already existed before the outbreak, we’re fortunate to have all the relevant safeguarding and security checks in place – all our staff and volunteers have been DBS checked. The welfare of our passengers and volunteers must remain our priority. However, we can only continue to support our vulnerable or elderly passengers and local communities as long as we have the funds to do so.  We’ve had to begin furloughing staff members where possible to maximise how long we can continue our activities for.”

    It’s a difficult and uncertain time for Friendly Bus and their passengers, but Marie was clear that communication with the people who rely on them is key. “We’re continuing to post our monthly newsletter to passengers, keeping the same format to continue normality as much as we can. Within our newsletter we’ve explained the different ways we’re here to help, and key messages around how to look out for scams targeting older people and tips to maintaining positive mental health. We’re also setting up a mobile book, jigsaw puzzle, CD and DVD exchange called the Friendly Swap Shop Bus, all with safety and hygiene measures in place. Letters can also be given to our volunteers to post – helping people to keep in touch with friends and family. ”

    They’re also making sure they support their volunteers with regular calls, both so they can share any conversations they’ve had with passengers and raise potential concerns or things to follow-up on, but also if they just need the opportunity to talk as well. “We wouldn’t be able to continue without the help of our dedicated volunteers,” said Marie.

    One of their regular passengers, Diane, who’s been using their services for over ten years, spoke about how much the work of Friendly Bus means to her. “You help me more than you will ever know,” she said, “I am so very grateful. You are an absolutes godsend, especially at this terrible time when I’m stuck at home. I wouldn’t be able to get to the doctors without your volunteers taking me as I can’t walk far. I look forward to my phone call each week –it’s good to have a laugh, now more than ever.”

    If you have a story to tell about the work you’re doing to support your community at the moment, we’d love to hear from you. Just drop an email to tom@ctauk.org.

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