How a humble minibus is breathing life into local communities
“Community transport is one of the cornerstones for strengthening our communities and keeping social ties alive. We are fighting social isolation, we believe in connected communities and the importance of that for the health and well-being of a community as a whole, as well as for the individuals within it.“
Kathleen Lyons is CEO of Westway CT, which for the last 30 years has seen firsthand how empowering people with transport can change lives. Westway has a fleet of minibuses and dedicated drivers made up of both staff and volunteers to get people moving.
Keeping moving is important and community bus services are a lifeline. They connect rural villages, and in cities, bring people closer to the things they need but can’t get to with public transport anymore. Everything from visiting friends, getting to the post office, going to school, to meeting health appointments, community transport makes this possible. In doing so the social threads that knit a community together stay intact, and that’s important because without that we are strangers in our own neighbourhoods.
Across the UK, an astounding 23 million journeys are made with community transport each year. For many elderly individuals, life without this lifeline would be significantly more difficult and lonely. Joyce is 92 and a Westway CT member, she relies on the Shopper Bus once a week, it’s a lifeline that she can’t do without. It’s not just about freedom, – it’s the camaraderie and chatter with fellow passengers that she treasures, “It’s a social club.”
While London has an impressive public transport network, it isn’t accessible for all and community transport steps in as a much-needed solution for older people, those with limited mobility, or those lacking confidence in navigating buses and trains. It also enables a multitude of local community services to keep delivering.
Minds United FC are a local mental health football team that’s been working with Westway CT since 2020, Tarik Kaidi their founder says,
“They’ve helped us a lot, it means we can travel as a team, and help our members who struggle with their mental health, who might get lost and can’t travel by themselves to feel supported, travelling together means no one misses out on the banter and enjoying the pre-game atmosphere – it’s more inclusive.”
As not-for-profits, CT operators deliver a dependable and affordable option, reducing the financial burden of travel for groups, and providing the extra support some people need to travel independently. At Westway CT membership for individuals is £12 a year, and for groups just slightly more at £35 – £70 (depending on income and location).
John MacNeely from Action on Disability in Hammersmith says,
“The biggest benefit to working together is that we know that we can rely on Westway, and we know that young disabled people will access our service because Westway will provide the transport. …Transport for people with mobility issues can be inaccessible or too expensive and so without it the families and young people we support wouldn’t get the same opportunities.”
This community resource is helping people to remain active, independent, and happy, which in turn has mental and physical health benefits – breaking down simple barriers to getting to your GP appointment more easily, means being able to see your doctor more regularly which means you can get the help you need when you need it.
If you’ve noticed community minibuses in your area chances are they are supporting a range of community groups, including Food Banks. Westway CT collaborates with The Dalgarno Trust Food Bank, who say,
“We give food to around 120 people each week, which helps approximately 300 families. 450 bags of food are given out every week. We hire a Westway van and use it to drive to the local supermarkets, which give us their surplus. This means we always have fresh food to offer our food bank users.”
Over the last year our vehicles made it possible for 19,654 bags to get to individuals unable to reach the centre, with 8,135 visits made across North Kensington.
So a humble minibus, often overlooked until it’s needed is a key ingredient to a thriving local community, one that offers a unique opportunity to exchange ideas, experiences and resources that, in turn, strengthen and enrich our social fabric. By bringing people together across our community to forge connections and a spirit of shared experiences – this is building community at its core.