LOCAL pensioners have told the Mourne Observer they are afraid they are going to lose their rural bus services, which they regard as vital to their everyday lives. Last week news broke that funding – from the Department for Infrastructure – for the rural transport service used across Northern Ireland would come to an end at the end of April, with no confirmation if it would continue. The Community Transport Association (CTA) is a charity that supports rural transport partnerships like Down Community Transport and Newry and Mourne Community Transport, which provide bus services for those people who need to get to appointments. CTA and the Rural Community Transport Partnerships were told at the end of February that no decision had been made regarding funding for 2023/2024 due to budgetary uncertainty and that difficult decisions will have to be made. Bridget Gordon is a pensioner who lives in Loughinisland and uses the Down Community Transport facility. She was very unhappy when she heard that the service could be stopped. “I was horrified. I just thought ‘how am I going to get out?’” she said. “I am very concerned because all the appointments I go to are during the day, from nine to five but I live in a rural area in Loughinisland. “You can’t afford taxis. I have a son, but he can’t take days off work. “The world has changed. There are no neighbours to run you anywhere. Everyone is at work.” Were the funding to be stopped, Bridget said she felt it would be a terrible loss, and not only as a means to get out to the shops. “Having the bus is so important for mental health. It allows you to get out and have that independence. It is not just important to go to appointments like the dentist and the doctor or hairdresser or even the shopping.” Bridget doesn’t drive and uses the service twice a week and has been using it since the bus service that went from Newcastle to Lisburn stopped travelling through Loughinisland. She said: “I moved to Loughinisland in 1978 and I have noticed a gradual removal of the buses. Those buses were vital to get out. I have always used public transport. I find it invaluable. “Now we have no bus service.” Patricia Grant is also worried that the rural transport bus service might stop. The 81-year-old from the Mill Road in Annalong has been using a bus to go to Newry every week for 20 years, and also a community bus to go to Annalong and her community centre. She looks forward to both. “It is lovely to get away to Newry for a day out. I fairly look forward to going to the community centre on Wednesday as well. I would miss it. “We couldn’t believe it when we were told (that the service may not receive funding). We were annoyed because we look forward to getting up to Newry. It would be awful if we couldn’t get out. “I don’t drive and my family is working. I am about a mile away from a bus stop. How else am I supposed to get anywhere?” The Community Transport Association (CTA) is a national charity that supports the organisations. Its NI Director, Noeleen Lynch, said the situation was “devastating” for everyone who relies on the service. “If we lose this service it will cause severe and irreversible damage to older and disabled people, who live in rural areas with no public transport nearby. “Elderly and disabled people rely on this service which is a door-to-door service to undertake journeys which include GP appointments, hospital appointments (within area), attending day opportunities, shopping, visiting friends and family, general health related appointments, post office/banking, training or local employment, linking to the public transport network. “So you’re talking about an impact on people’s lives and livelihoods should funding be reduced or discontinued.” Mrs Lynch said that although funding was guaranteed until the end of April, without news of further funding by the end of March, community transport organisations would have to make tough decisions. “We are keen to work with DfI to find a resolution regarding the funding to protect this lifeline service for now and into the future.” Brian Groves is a representative from the Newry and Mourne Community Transport. He echoed those sentiments and added that the rurally isolated need support. He said: “The main concerns are the disabled and elderly members residing in South Armagh and South Down who depend on NMCT to provide a dial-a-lift transport service. “At present they are rurally isolated without public transport or maybe a school bus which isn’t suitable for our clients. “NMCT provide a service for all our members, which is increasing in membership every week, be it health appointments, work, shopping, social events or visiting relations or friends. “If this service is withdrawn from the disabled and elderly members they will be totally isolated because they cannot attend important health appointments, shopping and social engagements. “The mental health and physical wellbeing of our members will be severely affected and the rural community abandoned yet again. “The disabled and elderly isolated rural residents deserve a transport service to meet their needs, NMCT is their ‘lifeline’”
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