Brakes are put on Fakenham community bus - tearful goodbyes on couple’s last service

Linda Tomlin, who volunteers on the bus with her husband Keith.

Linda Tomlin, who volunteers on the bus with her husband Keith. - Credit: Archant

There were emotional goodbyes on Tuesday morning as Keith Tomlin and his wife Linda made their final journey taking pensioners out on the Age Concern Fakenham community bus.

The couple, who have been volunteering with the charity for just over a year, were told last week the bus service was ending after 30 years, due to a lack of funding.

Mr Tomlin drives the minibus to the supermarket, town shops, care homes and medical appointments, while his wife helps people on and off, loads their shopping and delivers it to people's front doors.

But she also picks up prescriptions, collects fares and offers support to those who need to share their problems.

Now the passengers, aged between 55 and 91, will have to find alternative transport to get in and out of the town centre, often from rural locations which are not served by public transport.

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'I don't think people realise that being able to leave your own house, pay a fare and do your own shopping does a lot for the way you feel about yourself,' said Mrs Tomlin.

'It's very different to asking a son or daughter to take you. It keeps people independent and improves their mental health - at a time when everyone is on that bandwagon, including politicians.'

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The bus service that the Tomlins are involved with is just one of a daily service in the Fakenham area, which serves about 175 people.

They are all being stopped by September 23, with the charity saying falling passenger numbers and a lack of funding were to blame.

Thank you cards were handed to the Tomlins' and everyone on Tuesday's bus expressed their sorrow at the service coming to an end. Joyce Seamons, 82, of Fakenham, uses the service to do her shopping at Tesco.

She will be able to use public transport once the community bus ends, but said it will not be the same.

'It's a door to door service and it's wonderful,' she said.

'This bus means you have got someone calling at your house twice a week and they would be able to tell if there was a problem. That happened to me. I broke my hip and had to go to hospital at about 9pm. The bus came the next morning and because I hadn't pulled the curtains back and didn't answer the door, Keith got in touch with the police to find out if I was OK.'

Mrs Tomlin said it was sad day for everyone, particularly as friendships had been formed on the bus.

'They talk to me about stuff and I don't have an emotional agenda,' she said.

'Some of them have become friends and they won't get to see each other any more.'

'It's sad for us too, we are really going to miss them.'

What do you think of the closure of the Age Concern Fakenham community bus scheme? Write, giving full contact details, to Letters Editor, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich, NR1 1RE.

Joan Frost, 86, gets the bus from Colkirk to Fakenham to do her shopping and visit the market. She has used the service for 12 years.

'I use the bus every week for shopping. It's a marvellous service run by wonderful people. It gives you independence to do your shopping without having to worry other people.

'Another great thing is the friendships you have with people. I have got somebody who will help me go and do my shopping, so I am lucky. But this gives you independence, which is great.

'When I first started, there used to be a whole load of people who got picked up in Colkirk. Some of them passed away and it never seemed to pick up.

'I meet my friend on here every week, but now I am not going to see her any more.

When I read the piece in the newspaper about it closing, I cried my eyes out.

'I am lucky that if I don't have this, my son will look after me. I can't get my shopping delivered because I don't have a computer. Linda loads all our shopping on the bus and she brings it to our doors. She is fantastic.'

Shona Reason, 71, uses the bus to go from her home in Fulmodeston to do her shopping in Fakenham.

She has been using the service since she moved to Norfolk about 13 years ago.

'I usually get dropped off in the town to get pension and pay for the papers and all the other bills at the building society,' she said.

'I get picked up again and go to Morrisons to do the weekly shopping. I felt a lot of things when I found out the bus wouldn't be running any more. I think it was sprung on everyone in a bad way, so I wasn't very happy. At the moment, I rely on Tony (they share a home) - but his driving licence is up for renewal in about three weeks and he is diabetic, so I don't know if he will get it renewed.

'There is no normal bus that goes from where we live. I absolutely rely on this to do the weekly shopping. And it's a nice social gathering, everyone meets everyone. It's good for people who don't get out.'

Kim Osborne, 55, lives in Stibbard and gets the bus to do her shopping and other errands in town.

Her husband, who is 73, is currently seriously ill in hospital and she relies on the bus to do shopping and run errands in Fakenham.

'It's a 1.5 mile walk to get the public bus and I can't manage that with the shopping,' she said.

'This service is wonderful and they are lovely people. I shall miss it greatly.

'I can't do the things I need to with a public bus. I am fit and able, thankfully but my husband isn't. Keith and Linda help people on and off with their shopping and the bus is good for morale. It will be a sad loss.'

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