Preston Community Transport: 'We're social distancing, but we're still there to talk'
A small, locally-oriented charity, Preston Community Transport was founded in 1988 by a group of volunteers in order to ensure that those who needed help getting from A to B were not left high-and-dry. And they're still fulfilling that mantra to this day.
Having had to pivot and tweak their services as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, the charity is now working with local councils and foodbanks to deliver shopping, food, and prescriptions to vulnerable residents as well as offering regular phone calls for those who are socially isolated as a result of lockdown measures.
"People were getting stuck and isolated and they didn't know where to turn, so Preston Community Transport became a lifeline for people," says General Manager Dave Megginson of the charity's early days. "They're in rural areas where local buses only come once an hour because there have been massive cuts, so people might have no other means of getting out.
"Some people are socially as well as physically isolated and might only get out once a week, but they see their friends on our buses," Dave adds. "Some people just get on to see people, they don't get shopping or go to groups, they just want to get out the house and see their friends.
"That's the most important thing we do: if we can get people out the house and meeting like-minded people that gives them something to look forward to."
Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, Preston Community Transport was mainly focused on its dial-a-rise service, which is best suited to people making regular trips such as weekly shops, and their community cars service, which takes people to meetings such as hospital appointments, helping keep people active, engaged in their communities, and maintaining positive health and well-being.
Acutely aware of the loneliness which can set in as a result of not only physical isolation but social isolation, the charity currently has around 12 volunteers out and about doing jobs to help people on top of their four permanent drivers.
"We do a lot of work with other charitable groups who can't manage transport and we've started working with groups who organise befriending services like Butterflies in Penwortham, who have 60 members now," says Dave, 55, who is from Hartlepool but who has lived in Preston for over 30 years. "We're also working with food banks and disabled groups to get parcels out for them.
"During this pandemic, the stories of how frustrated people are... it's been shocking," Dave adds. "We're doing a lot of phone calls just to chat to people and make sure they've got food and, if need be, we can get a shopping list off them, do the shopping, get them what they want. Just knowing that we're there at the end of the phone is huge. We're social distancing, but we're still there to talk.
"One of our main services is getting people to medical appointments - emergency appointments are still going ahead but people can't get conventional patient transport, but they still have to go," Dave continues. "Without our service, some people would be really stuck."
Based at Preston Mobility Centre in the town centre, the charity works in partnership with Lancashire Community Transport and is always on the lookout for new volunteers, including minibus drivers, with the charity providing the relevant MiDAS training; drivers with their own cars; and others who want to help with office work, fundraising, and marketing.
"Our work goes to show how much you can adapt and change with the circumstances," Dave explains. "We're a small charity, but we've been flexible and the drivers have taken to it tremendously. It's amazing how many people have come out the woodwork to volunteer, too. It's unbelievable to be working to help people and it's been a great team effort. We've all dug in and done our bit.
"I'm so proud of all the staff," Dave adds. "This is one of the most rewarding jobs I've ever had."
To support Preston Community Transport, please head to www.prestonct.org.uk/about/how-to-support-us/