A DESPERATE appeal for funds has been made following the theft of a community bus used to transport elderly Ribble Valley residents living in isolated villages.
The Little Green Bus was undergoing minor repairs to its bodywork at Sabden Motor Bodies, in Taylor Street, Clitheroe, when three men broke in and took the 16-seater vehicle.
The silver bus was used as a getaway vehicle in which to transport tools and equipment also stolen from the garage.
The stolen bus was one of four owned by the charity. It was bought following three years of fund-raising and was the best of the charity’s small fleet.
All the buses are fitted with lifts and extra steps as well as equipment to secure wheelchairs and mobility aids.
The loss of one of its four buses is already proving a headache for the charity, which has been forced to make costly changes to its bus schedules. Its smaller eight seater bus is now making twice the number of journeys to more rural areas of the Ribble Valley to maintain the vital service.
Donna Atkinson, at the Little Green Bus charity, based on Hawthorn Industrial Estate, Upbrooks, Clitheroe, said everyone was “gutted” by what had happened.
She explained the charity, which has three full-time members of staff, the rest being volunteers, was already struggling after losing £50,000 a year through Government cuts.
“We’ve had to battle to keep going, so losing the bus is a nasty blow,” Donna said.
She added the charity expected to only recoup d £15,000 through the vehicle’s insurance, leaving a significant funding shortfall.
Donna explained suitable second hand buses are few and far between, while the price of leasing is too costly.
“Losing this bus means we are not in a position to take on any extra bookings, so not only is the charity losing out on vital income, its also a loss to community groups,” said Donna who added the charity was already saving up to replace its oldest bus.
Chairman of The Little Green Bus Margaret Sutcliffe said: “The quote people most often use when they talk about The Little Green Bus is that it is a ‘lifeline’.”
She added she was amazed the Government subsidises bus travel for anyone over the age of 60 through its NoW card scheme, but services such as The Little Green Bus which cater for the most vulnerable in society had to fight for every penny.
The Little Green Bus has 250 members, mainly elderly and the most vulnerable members of the community. It offers daily transport and doorstep pick ups, which are vital when half of the charity’s members have mobility issues. It takes people out to do their shopping, meet friends and attend medical appointments.
“Without The Little Green Bus, many people would become prisoners in their own homes,” Donna explained. “It means people keep active, don’t become too dependent on their children and have the chance to have a good catch up with others. Some of our members have made lasting friendships through the bus. Three widows, who met through the service, now go away on holiday together. They would never have met if it wasn’t for The Little Green Bus.
“We’re also often the first to spot signs of decline and dementia in people and can make sure people get the help they need.”
The charity’s buses are also used by 30 community groups, local schools use them on an ad hoc basis as does the local council.
The Little Green Bus has 18 volunteer bus drivers and eight volunteer car drivers, who have first aid and disability awareness training. It also trains representatives from other organisations how to use the buses.
Resident Peter Robinson added: “Suicide rates are highest in rural communities. The Little Green Bus service is like a community hall on wheels.” Anyone can become a member of The Little Green Bus for £20 a year. Shopping trips are charged at £2 each way while day trips further afield cost £10.
“They used to be free until the cuts and austerity measures, but now we’ve got to battle to keep going,” said Donna.
Anyone who would like more information about The Little Green Bus, who would like to register as a member or make a donation to this vital service, should call 01200 444484 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Meanwhile, anyone with information about the theft, which happened between 5 p,m, and 9 p.m. on Monday, February 18th, is asked to call police on 101 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111. The bus was last seen in Hayhurst Street, Clitheroe.