Exmouth lifeline bus service to stop loneliness appeals for funds as charity uses £14,000 reserves to give free help amid COVID-19 lockdown

A lifeline bus and support service for the elderly and disabled in the Exmouth area gave its service free of charge during the coronavirus lockdown, at a loss of £14,000 to the charity.

Exmouth and District Community Transport ring and ride support – which for many elderly and disabled people means the difference between loneliness and isolation at home and day trips out and friendship – was unable to secure any grant help during the crisis so used its reserve fund to operate a 12-week free shopping, prescription pick-up and medical appointment service.

The charity, which celebrates 30 years in November, is ‘determined not to close’. It is appealing to the community to help through donations or sponsorship, in a bid to keep the bus service on the road.

Jill Elson, Exmouth and District Community Transport founder, said government grant applications had proved unsuccessful, the Lottery fund ‘had run out of money’ and the Charities Aid Foundation (CAF) coronavirus emergency fund had been flooded with requests and unable to help.

I am determined we will not close – so we must raise the funds to keep going

Since June 1 passengers have begun paying for trips but social distancing rules mean the bus can only transport two at a time, plus the driver.

Jill said the charity was only able to furlough one member of staff and had to pay rent and running costs during lockdown.

She said: “We are making more grant applications to replenish our reducing funds. “We celebrate thirty years in November and I am determined we will not close – so we must raise the funds to keep going.”

She added: “We made the decision to offer shopping and prescription collection free of charge.

“The loss for us has been £14,500 for the twelve weeks. Many of those people we have helped have been very grateful.

“We have been a very active charity during the COVID-19 regulations. In the first twelve weeks we were contacting all our passengers to make sure they were okay.

“Many live on their own with relatives living a distance away so were extremely isolated.

“We have carried out a variety of tasks, including picking up shopping or prescriptions, and taken people to emergency medical appointments.

“This we did free until the lockdown was eased. During this time, we applied for two grants but were unsuccessful.

“Most of the grants have been given to those providing delivery of meals.”

The ring and ride service started charging again at the start of June, but funds continue to be hit because social distance restrictions mean passenger numbers travelling on each bus are limited.

Jill said: “We have begun charging a fare but we can only carry two passengers per bus to keep the social distancing.

“We have put in place a temporary timetable, taking people to the local seafronts for an ice cream, coffee or tea. We visit Exmouth, Budleigh Salterton and Sidmouth seafronts.

“For many this has been the first time that they have been out of their homes since lockdown and they have all been very pleased to be out of their four walls and to see something new.

“We have also taken people to visit loved-ones locally or in nearby counties.

“We are running two trips per day using both our buses giving eight passengers a day the opportunity of going out.

“This is the maximum at the moment, so we are looking forward to the social distance being reduced to one metre to allow more people to enjoy a trip out.”

The door-to-door service offers trips to the supermarket and garden centre, transport to medical appointments, and days out with lunch .

Passengers see scenic routes of Exmouth, Budleigh Salterton and the outlying villages, as the bus picks each person up from their home, and drops them back at the end of the day.

Drivers carry walking aids to and from the bus, take shopping to the door and lunches to the table.

Before lockdown Exmouth Community Transport ordered a new £50,000 eight-seat bus, made possible thanks to donations, grants and an anonymous £21,000 gift from 93-year-old widow, in memory of her husband.

Exmouth and District Community Transport welcomes donations and sponsorship using Gift Aid. Contact the charity to help on 01393 266662, or see more information here.

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