Published: 10:00, 10 June 2019
| Updated: 10:24, 10 June 2019
A new bus service in Northbourne will bring an end to isolation among the elderly, residents have triumphed.
The new service starting today is one of five to be piloted around Kent, as the county council tests new ways of providing services for those who live in villages and isolated communities.
It comes after villagers pulled together with a questionnaire about the impact of no buses after their local service was withdrawn in September 2017.
This, together with letters, meetings and a KCC consultation, entitled the Big Conversation, has resulted in the new taxi bus which will cover Staple, Guilton, Northbourne, Mongeham and Sandwich.
Pat Skelton, 68, of The Street in Northbourne, has welcomed the new four-bus a day service which is guaranteed for a year.
She said: "There's been total isolation.
"It had taken away older people's independence. People here, especially older people, have been so lonely.
"We've been taking a lady regularly on a Thursday to a doctors appointment and to do her shopping. She was a lady who would walk out to the bus stop nearly every day. That was her freedom."
Prior to the new bus, villagers who were able to had to walk about 15 minutes through a field and woodland to reach the closest bus stop in Circular Road in Betteshanger.
Mrs Skelton continued: "This is really going to be the first step towards relieving the dreadful isolation. This is not just a shopper service.
"It gives people a good three and a half hour window to shop, visit the doctors, dentist, library and restaurants.
"It's taken a lot of meetings and negotiations but we're thrilled."
The service will be run by Britannia and will accept the senior citizen bus passes and the young person’s travel pass.
A spokesman for Britannia said: “The staff here are thrilled to have been selected to operate this new rural bus service as part of the KCC pilot scheme, a great deal of effort has gone toward preparing the vehicle and staff in anticipation of the start on June 10 and we look forward to working with residents to ensure it is a success.”
It will operate off peak between 9.30am and 3.30pm Monday to Friday.
Other rural services have been reinstated in Sevenoaks, Tenterden, West Malling and Maidstone.
KCC cabinet member for transport Mike Whiting said: “Our objective with these services is to fill a gap that isn’t provided by the commercial operators and help those living in rural communities have access to an alternative means of transport.
“By doing so we hope to help tackle social isolation and provide the right transport solutions in the right places for the right price.
“I would like to thank those people that took part in our Big Conversation on rural transport last year and were active in helping us arrange these services. I’m happy to see the realisation of those discussions.
“I hope every route is successful and that people are able to benefit from these additional services. We’re spending £500,000 on these pilot projects for 12 months and if they prove to be popular, they will become the basis on which rural transport could be provided in the future.”
Timetables will be available on Kent.gov.uk and posted at the stops.