The community minibus run by Alston Moor Community Transport has transformed the lives of many during its 13 years of service by providing a means of breaking the social isolation often faced by the residents of Alston Moor ...

The Alston Moor Community Transport committee was set up in 2001 as a result of a Health Action Zone Initiative, which was setup to look at how lives could be improved in communities across Cumbria. One of the things which came up in Alston Moor was the difficulty for people to get out and about due to a lack of community transport. Trying to hire transport from elsewhere was not an option either as it was not economically viable due to Alston Moor's isolated location being almost 20 miles to the nearest town.

Minibus Hazel

Alston Moor gets its own community minibus

It was decided Alston Moor would benefit greatly from having its own community minibus and a committee was formed, which was successful in receiving support and funding from a range of sources which enabled Alston Moor Community Transport to buy its own community minibus which was delivered in November 2001.

Hazel Hanley the group's Secretary played a key role in establishing the minibus, being motivated by discovering first-hand how difficult it was to find suitable transport for a group of disabled children and their parents for trips around Alston Moor and further afield.

Hazel said: "The reason we set it up was because social isolation is as big a risk factor as anything else when it comes to ill health because getting out and about is really important for people. It's very easy for say older people who don't drive to become invisible within a community. We don't see them, oh that's because they can't get out."

How the wheels of the business turn

The minibus is setup as a Company Limited by Guarantee and a Registered Charity, which operates as a not for profit community transport service, meaning the minibus can operate under a special licence under Section 19 nd therefore does not require a public service vehicle (PSV) operator's licence.

The community minibus service is managed by a small voluntary committee and users are charged according to the number of kilometres they travel and this income pays for the running costs, such as insurance, fuel and repair bills.  It would not be possible to run the service without the many volunteers who help to run it, including the 25 volunteer drivers who donate their timMinibus groupe and skills to allow community groups to confidently organise outings. The hiring of the minibus is restricted to community groups as the enterprise does not want to compete with commercial taxis and buses.

A wide range of groups have hired the mini bus over the years with regular users including the Theatre Goers, the Scouts, the Brownies, the Day Trippers and the local schools.

Improving lives by breaking social isolation

The minibus has definitely met its original aim of improving lives by improving access to social events and days out.
Making this difference is the most rewarding part of running the minibus for Hazel: "It's about being able to take people places where they would not have gone otherwise, to events either sporting or cultural events or day trips out, which would otherwise be quite difficult to do and it's the social interaction of travelling together which makes a difference. it's just a bit of social fabric which makes things run a bit smoother"

Listen below to Cynthia Dodd organiser of and Alix Martin volunteer driver for the Alston Day Trippers group talking about what it means to be able to get out of Alston Moor thanks to the minibus.

Looking to the future

As the community minibus is almost 13 years old the committee have been considering the options for Alston Moor Community Transport going into the future and one of the things on the horizon is the possibility that Alston Moor will have access to one of the fleet of minibuses of the Cumbria County Council Community Wheels scheme. This Community Wheels minibus will be piloted on Alston Moor from summer 2014 for six months, which will be run by Cumbria County Council in partnership with a community steering group supported by the Alston Moor Sustain Eden project.

Minibus alix lighter 250x203Some words of advice

Hazel Hanley would offer the following advice to others hoping to set up a similar scheme where they are:

"There are small challenges to running the community minibus and having a group of committed volunteers to help run the service and share the tasks is vital, such as keeping on top of the VAT returns, coordinating the bookings and sending the bills out.

It also helps if you have a friendly local business like Henderson's Garage, who house and look after the minibus for the community. Other small things are important like encouraging each group who use it to clean it out afterwards because people always moan if it is not in good nick, but actually for a model for a community owned asset it's not that difficult really."

Next week we find out all about one of Alston Moor's most unique social enterprises – Nenthead Community Snowplough which has been successfully helping Nenthead residents keep moving in harsh winters since 2011.