A new community bus run by a small army of volunteers has been unveiled to its passengers.
Since 2010, the elderly residents of Stockbury have seen the service as a lifeline, allowing them to get to Sittingbourne, Maidstone and Hempstead Valley.
It was launched by Stockbury Parish Council when the Post Bus service was withdrawn from the village.
Kent County Council lent them a bus and has now awarded them a community transport fund grant to replace the old bus with a shiny new one.
Launching the service, KCC cabinet member for Transport Matthew Balfour said: “This is the most fantastic scheme, but it’s the people behind it that really make it so. It wouldn’t function without your coordinator and the drivers putting themselves out and spending time to help others.
“This is the future and what we have here in Stockbury is a positive community that helps each other and that’s what we need to copy across the county.
“I’m sure you’ll have other villages knocking on your door asking how you do it and how you do it so well.”
The bus takes residents from the villages of Stockbury, Hartlip, South Green and Yelsted to Sittingbourne, Maidstone and Hempstead Valley Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays.
One of those who uses it is Joyce Jacobs, 84, who said: “I use it every day that it runs. I can’t walk from here down to the main road with a load of shopping.
“Monday I go to Sittingbourne, Tuesday I go to Maidstone, Thursdays I go to Hempstead Valley.
“There’s always a lot of people on it. If they take us down the coast I’ll be on it. I can’t walk far but I’ve got my walker, get down the seaside, take my puzzle book, have my dinner and meet the bus when it’s time to go home.”
The new bus, which is fully wheelchair accessible, operates on a telephone system with people calling up and booking a seat.
The first pick-up is at 9.30am and if people are unable to get to a specific pick-up point, the bus can meet them outside their homes.
Bus coordinator Fiona Moody said: “Aside from essential grocery shopping, our ladies and gents are also able to get to optician and doctors’ appointments or meet up with family members and friends.
“During the summer months, we arrange day trips out, to the coast – Whitstable Oyster Festival is a favourite, stately homes, gardens, we’ve even been known to take a trip to an air show.”
Kent County Council’s Head of Public Transport Phil Lightowler said: “We’re very happy to have been able to help and support Stockbury Community minibus.
“We know that it’s a lifeline to some of the passengers who live in villages where local bus services are not very regular and we’re delighted that it is also used for social outings.
“KCC is very conscious of the need to reduce isolation in rural areas and to keep our villages viable places to live. Buses like these are a crucial part of the mix.”
The parish council said it was keen to hear from other villages who might want to run their own service on the days it is not in use.
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