At a time when village shops are disappearing and public services are being cut back, Dorset Community Transport (DCT) has been working with local councillors to help villagers stay connected to basic amenities.
In this Journey Makers story, we focus on a group of councillors whose engagement with DCT has ensured that a crucial local bus service remains up and running.
This Journey Makers story revolves around Service 97, a crucial local bus service connecting residents from East Dorset villages to their nearest towns.
The bus, which serves the villages of Alderholt, Cripplestyle, Cranborne, Edmondsham and Woodlands, was saved by Dorset Community Transport (DCT) after it was nearly lost following council funding cuts in July 2017.
Key to the continuing existence and success of the bus service has been a group of councillors who came together to support the service in partnership with DCT. This Working Group meets four times a year to ensure the bus service remains sustainable and viable, and includes representatives from Alderholt Parish Council, Cranborne and Edmondsham Parish Council, and Knowlton Parish Council, as well as Tim Christian, general manager at DCT.
Working Group member Councillor Jerry Laker, Chair of Knowlton Parish Council, says the bus is the only viable means of transport for many villagers to access basic services like supermarkets, doctors’ surgeries and libraries.
“There’s very little in terms of village services, and you only have to look at the regular queues for the outbound bus, and laden shopping bags on the return bus, to see what a practical solution Service 97 has become,” says Jerry.
He adds that DCT was able to extend the route to stop at Woodlands, a village served by his parish council. “So we can now provide something for people in that area who have a real need for public transport.”
Jerry says the Working Group is an example of what can be achieved when councillors come together with their local community transport provider to address a problem, particularly in the recent wake of the region’s nine district and borough councils being replaced with two unitary councils.
“We have to stand on our own collective feet. Now we no longer have a district council to talk with, we have to say, ‘Okay, we might find difficulty doing this on our own, but if we get our heads together we might find a solution that is beneficial to all of us’,” he says. And they have!
Councillor Gina Logan, of Alderholt Parish Council, is full of admiration for the team at DCT “who provide the vehicles, maintain and insure them, undertake the administration and train the drivers”.
She says: “The drivers, by knowing the regular users, are able to maintain an ongoing awareness as to their wellbeing, for example through asking why a passenger might not have made it onto the bus that day.”
Service 97 passenger Beryl Broughton uses the service regularly. She says: “I’m a pensioner and am no longer able to drive. As well as using the bus to get to the doctor and to go shopping, I use the route to go to Fordingbridge where I can catch a bus to go further afield, which gets me out of the house, keeps me mobile and the brain working. My friends are all elderly and don’t drive, so without a bus I would be completely stuck.”
Mrs Margaret Hill, another passenger, says it’s not just a matter of getting from A to B: “I am now in my 80s and I use the service at least twice a week. We don’t have a taxi service in Alderholt, so the bus remains my only form of transport. Getting on the bus itself is a social occasion: the bus drivers are wonderful and I get to meet other passengers for a chat.”
Tim Christian, general manager at DCT said “community transport is all about finding solutions. This partnership has demonstrated what is achievable when we work together within the community. The efforts of the Working Group have had a big impact on the passengers, preventing loneliness and isolation and making sure that villagers can remain independent”.
Do you have a local issue that could use some help from Dorset Community Transport? Contact the team on 01258 287980.