Published: 12:58, 23 September 2021
| Updated: 17:54, 23 September 2021
Hold very tight, Sheppey's community support bus is finally on the road. But it still needs drivers.
Most motorists who took their test before 1993 can operate the double-decker, without passengers, after a free refresher course. It is hoped to build a pool of volunteers who can take turns.
Steve Chalke talks about the Sheppey Support Bus
The first trips will be from Sheerness to Warden Bay and Leysdown on Tuesdays but it is hoped to eventually cover the whole of the Island.
Supporters were given their first look of the former red London bus, donated by Tim Lambkin of Travelmasters, at its launch on Wednesday at the Minster campus of the Oasis Academy Isle of Sheppey.
The downstairs has been turned into a mobile community supermarket by Faversham company South East Coachworks which put together the bus featured in the Spice Girls' 1997 movie Spice World.
The top deck has been converted into curtained-off areas where residents can get advice and guidance on housing, finances, relationships and jobs.
The scheme is the brainchild of the Sheppey Community Development Forum created by Oasis founder the Rev Steve Chalke.
He said: "This is a fantastic project. Social supermarkets have been around a while but we believe this is the first of its type in the country. It has come a long way remarkably quickly thanks to everyone's help."
He paid tribute to Tim Lambkin who provided the bus, Lynne Clifton of Sheerness Salvation Army who led the project and Paul Murray of the Oasis Academy who coordinated many of the initial meetings.
Mr Lambkin said: "When Paul phoned me out of the blue asking for 'a bit of help' delivering food around the Island I thought he just wanted to borrow a minibus. Luckily I managed to get my hands on this bus."
The idea was first mooted during an online meeting of the Forum in November as levels of food poverty began rising across the Island during the coronavirus lockdown. Mr Chalke asked: "What would it take to alleviate food poverty on the Island?"
Mrs Clifton said: "We acknowledge the incredible work the food banks have been doing to help tackle the desperate situation many households are facing but we believe this project will be transformational for individuals and families and help narrow the gap between those who have enough to eat and those who don’t."
The bus costs £4,000 a year to run but should be self-financing once families have signed up. Single membership costs £14 a month and guarantees 10 dried and tinned products a week plus bread, fruit and vegetables when available. Family membership costs £28 and guarantees 20 products.
It is expected more families may use the bus when the government's covid furlough scheme and the £20 a week Universal Credit top-up ends.
Volunteers are needed to staff the supermarket and to work behind-the-scenes on administration and sorting food supplies. For details, email firstname.lastname@example.org
Visit www.sheppeysupportbus.org or the Facebook page Sheppey Support Bus Official.
To help the project financially, visit the sheppey support bus just giving page here.