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Talking bus launches in Maidstone to help reduce loneliness

By Claire McWethy

You’ve heard of a walking bus, but what about a talking bus?

Passengers were encouraged to have a natter with their neighbour as they travelled as part of a new trial scheme to combat loneliness in Maidstone yesterday.

Organised by operator Arriva, the pilot aims to provide days out for older people and encouraging people to talk to one another.

Diana Thomas, Lorraine Smith-Lowther and Michael Brown chat on-board the talking bus. Picture: Chris Davey
Diana Thomas, Lorraine Smith-Lowther and Michael Brown chat on-board the talking bus. Picture: Chris Davey

Lauren Edmonds, marketing manager at the bus firm, said: “Age UK runs a loneliness café and we both came up with this idea to educate customers and find out what barriers they might have with using the bus service, but also to get them to talk to each other in that environment.”

Members of West Kent Befriending Service, which is part of Age UK Maidstone, were among the passengers to board the number 12 bus at Chequers bus station.

From there the bus headed to Tenterden, where passengers, including the service’s manager Wendy Pfeiffer, enjoyed tea, cake and a chat.

Earlier this year Ms Pfeiffer spent a week starting conversations with strangers to promote the befriending service’s work. It was then she had the idea to partner up with Arriva.

She said: “The turnout was great. Hopefully this is something we can encourage Arriva to do on a regular basis so we can get more of our members included on days out.”

Depending on customer feedback, Arriva will look to designate different buses each week as ‘talking buses’, and publicise them through Age UK. The services are still in use for the wider public, who are also encouraged to get involved.

Passenger Michael Brown, a grandfather of Westmorland Road, has been a member of the West Kent Befriending Service for the past two years. He said: “I’ve got a lot of good friends at the service. The talking bus has helped me too. I like to get out as I spend a lot of time at home.”

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