When we first put Rye & District Community Transport on the road, back in 1994, not for one moment did we imagine that one day we would be running a scheduled bus service.
Our modest objective in those early days was to provide a volunteer-driven minibus to ferry people to and from day centres and social events and to take them on outings to shopping centres, theatres and places of interest.
Today, Rye CT does all of that, plus running a popular dial-a-ride service, a school bus between Northiam and Tenterden and the new 326 service from Cadborough Cliff to the High Street. And it is on the threshold of further major advances which will see more vehicles and more services for the people of Rye and the surrounding villages.
It all began in 1993, when Rye Age Concern asked St John Ambulance if one of their vehicles could be used to bring people in to their day centre. Restrictions on the use of their ambulances prevented St John from helping in this way, but a few or us met to seek ways to solve the problem.
From that meeting emerged a proposal to obtain a minibus for the use of all voluntary organisations in the Rye area. A steering group was set up and an early decision was to seek the sponsorship and help of Rye & District Council for Voluntary Service, which was enthusiastically given.
Our first grants came from the Hastings and Rother Joint Planning Team, an agency representing the NHS and Social Services with funds to distribute to voluntary organisations whose projects reflected the priorities of its Community Care Plan. They totalled £14,000 a year for three years. This reflected our decision to lease rather than buy a vehicle, a decision which enabled us to learn all about running a minibus and the needs, comfort and safety of passengers before we bought our first bus three years later.
A little over 12 months from our first meeting, Rye CVS appointed a Management Committee to take over from the steering group. It consisted of myself, a retired business publications editor and member of St John Ambulance, Ray Fooks, former Thomas Peacocke head, CVS founder member and a tireless worker for the Memorial Care Centre, Brian Tuck, ex Lloyd Bank manager, a Rotarian, member of the League of Friends of the MCC and, more recently, a principal player in the Rye Chemobyl Childern’s annual visits, Nan Hacking, Sussex Rural Community Council’s local volunteer recruitment worker – through whom almost all our volunteers drivers have come – and Andrea Talbot, of East Sussex Age Concern, whose contacts among both voluntary and statutory organisations have been invaluable.
Of these, Ray, Nan and I were on the original steering group, together with Gina Sanderson, now the industrious co-ordinator of Rye CVS, Monica Oliver, representing the Town Council, the late Jean Bull, of the WRVS and George Hunt from Thomas Peacocke.
Nan’s recruitment work resulted in a healthy list of drivers, including Tony Bryant, (the egg man), Ralph Holland, Fred Stonham, Frances Catt and one or two unemployed people from Hastings, one of whom – Michael Macey – acknowledged that experience with Rye CT helped him to land a driver’s job with Stagecoach.
So we were ready. Our negotiations with Kent Commercial Services, a transport ‘profit centre’ of Kent County Council, had resulted in the leasing of a 16-seater, coach-built Ford Transit with tail-lift, and on August 31, 1994, this vehicle, complete with the now familiar Rye CT logo and livery, performed its first service – carrying people between Tilling Green and a fair in New Road.
Within days we were providing transport for the twice-weekly day centre run by Rye Age Concern. That was followed by similar arrangements for the weekly day centre at Northiam and the fortnightly Monday Club. Later we catered for Rye Methodist Church every Sunday, for the monthly meetings of the women’s section of the British Legion at Rye, and for Rye Swimming Club’s weekly visit to the over 50s session at Tenterden.
Between these regular engagements, the bus was being booked by over 40 local organisations for outing and theatres, shows, supermarkets, shopping centres and a large variety of places of interest all over Sussex and Kent. and beyond. Our list of clients included Thomas Peacocke and three other schools, RAFA, Churches Together, yachtsmen and fishermen in Rye Harbour, several WI branches, the Brownies, youth club, Nifty Fifties and Friends & Neighbours at Camber, most of the sheltered housing units, Rye Flower Club, Rye Bell-ringers and the short-lived Swallow Club – formed by the patrons of a Rye pub for visiting other hostelries to wine and dine.
In our first year we undertook 200 journeys, carrying 2,500 passengers over a total of some 10.00 miles. In subsequent years these figures increased steadily, reaching 375 journeys, 5,000 passengers and 13,250 miles in the last complete year.
Our level of charging for the use of the bus was designed to be affordable to groups with meagre resources, yet cover our operating costs and allow the growth of a modest reserve for the future. This policy meant that by the end of our third year, when funding ceased, we had sufficient in reserve to put up £12,000 for our own vehicle. Of course we needed more than that – another £25,000 to be precise – and so it was with considerable relief that we learned of the success of our first Lottery bid in November ‘97. Our still-in-service LDV Condor, complete with all the extras and modifications were deemed necessary for a safe, reliable and comfortable performance, arrived in May ‘98 and took over from the leased bus.
Our first attempt at something resembling a scheduled service was in response to numerous complaints and press publicity about the difficulties Rye people were said to be having in getting to Conquest. We could not, of course, provide a complete solution, but we decided that a Wednesday evening and Sunday afternoon service for hospital visitors would ease the problems for a number of people.
Rye CT became independent from Rye CVS in July 2000 and was formed into a charitable company in October that year. Its move to Rye Wharf in May 2001 has provided secure parking for four vehicles and an office large enough to accommodate the increasing complexities of our work.
Meeting New Needs We have been singularly fortunate in not having had a serious breakdown, but this has not stopped us from thinking of the consequences if one were to occur. Our favoured solution was the purchase of a low-cost second hand vehicle which would serve as a stand-by but could also be used to meet extra demands from our clients.
Our search for a suitable vehicle was protracted and was eventually overtaken by emerging urgent needs in the community created by the shrinkage in commercial bus service. In the summer of 2001 it became our aim to provide a daily school run between Northiam and Tenterden for pupils who could no longer use the reduced 400 service, starting in late August. We also planned a regular service between Cadborough Cliff and the High Street to replace that part of the 325 service withdrawn by the bus company as from October 1.
We began urgent negotiation with the Countryside Agency for a Rural Transport Development Fund grant and at the same time trawled the second hand market for a quality vehicle – we had neither the time nor the finance to purchase a brand new vehicle. Luckily we found an ex-demonstration 16-seater Ford Transit and after a nerve racking wait secured a 60% grant towards the purchase price of £32,000.
We also began preparations for the two projects. Pat formed the parents of the Northiam pupils into a travel club, which would allow the use of a Section 19 Permit and a paid driver – a necessity, we felt, to ensure a punctual daily service. Meanwhile, plans were drawn up for the High Street. This entitled route planning, timetabling, costing and a Section 22 Permit to enable the collection of fares. Our proposal had to be approved by ESCC, the Traffic Commissioner and the Countryside Agency, all of which was achieved within a thigh time schedule. A further bus was paid for out of Government funding and delivered on August 16 and a driver, David Simmons, employed in time for the start of the school run on August 22. Then on October 1 we launched our first scheduled service for fare paying, which is, however, limited to the time available between taking Northiam pupils to Tenterden in the morning and returning them in the afternoon.
So we now have three buses, with a forth due early in 2002, and still no back up vehicle, We are, of course, looking for a solution. But we are also aware of an increasing interest and understanding of the concept of community transport, and the probability of greater demand in the near future.
Any substantial demands from the parishes as a result of the Parish Transport grants, for example, will almost certainly mean yet another bus will be needed.
And so the wheel turns – to keep the wheels turning….
Rye’s Own February 2002
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