Vital Norwich transport service to end
A community transport organisation which has been a lifeline to thousands of people in the city for more than a decade is set to close down.
West Norwich Community Transport was saved from the brink of closure three years ago after its funding was withdrawn.
Since then, it has continued to provide a vital service to tens and thousands of elderly people and children living in Bowthorpe, Larkman, Marlpit, New Costessey and North and West Earlham.
But now the scheme is due to shut on April 8.
The closure has been blamed on crippling fuel prices and high maintenance costs of the minibuses.
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It will see eight members of staff - two full-time and four part-time - lose their jobs and thousands of people looking for alternative forms of transport.
Tony Cooper, chairman of the scheme, said: 'It's so sad and I'm just devastated. We've got ageing transport and it keeps breaking down. With the lack of funding that's about, we just can't afford to keep them on the road.
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'We're a not-for-profit organisation and people are just not interested in releasing any funding. We've been letting everybody know that we're finishing. We're sorry it's coming to an end, it's just horrible. I hate to see anyone losing their jobs, especially when they have been as good as what we've had. Andy Pope has been a wonderful manager. He has kept our heads above water.'
From October last year to March this year, the service helped to transport nearly 15,000 people, including schoolchildren and elderly people looking to attend lunch clubs and bingo clubs and to do their shopping.
Users are being referred to other dial-a-ride transport services including Dial-a-Ride and Transport Plus and have been told of public transport options. Leaflets and information have been provided.
Sharon Betts, chairman of the Belvedere Community Association, said eight ladies will be affected at the Belvedere Centre in Belvoir Steet, off Dereham Road, Norwich.
She said: 'The transport service is their lifeline. They come out for the lunch club once a week, it's their one trip out a week. They come here for the whole day - they play bowls in the morning, have dinner and then play bingo in the afternoon. We also take them out for day trips.
'Most of them are unable to walk and they are all aided with walking sticks and walking frames. I'm trying my hardest to get them sorted out. I've tried other services and but they are too busy and can't accommodate eight. It's very difficult - a taxi for 50 weeks a year is very expensive.
Getting a taxi is stressful and hard for them.'
Pensioners living in Rotary Court sheltered housing accommodation in Low Road, Hellesdon, said they would also feel the impact of the closure.
As recently reported, people living in Rotary Court are also facing losing their bus service.
The West Norwich Community Transport was one of the success stories born from the North Earlham Larkman and Marlpit (NELM) project.
NELM was set up as a 10 year New Deal for Communities project in 1999 aimed at improving the quality of life for the people living in heavily deprived parts of the city.
When West Norwich Community Transport's funding from NELM stopped in 2008, current manager Andrew Pope and Ash Webb, who is no longer with the organisation, continued to run the scheme.
The scheme has continued to win contracts but officials said they could not take them due to the state of the vehicles.
Rupert Read, Green Party city councillor for Wensum ward, said: 'I'm very sorry to see this happening. I've fought hard to help this excellent organisation to get funding.
'They play a great role in the community. A brilliant organisation like this is going to be well missed and is a perfect example of what the 'big society' ought to be.'
A Norwich City Council spokesman said that the city council had provided funding in previous years out of its transport budget when the concessionary bus fares came into effect.
A Norfolk County Council spokesman said the authority had been helping West Norwich Community Transport users find alternative transport.
Will you be affected by the closure of West Norwich Community Transport? Call reporter Kate Scotter on 01603 772326 or email firstname.lastname@example.org