Project makes the journey as important as the destination

Berwickshire Wheel makes getting out and about easy
Berwickshire Wheel makes getting out and about easy

As far as 90-year-old Jackie Innes is concerned, life would be a whole lot more difficult and expensive without the Berwickshire Wheels.

Mrs Innes has used the transport service for almost seven years, relying on it to take her to visit her family for the weekend twice a month.

Berwickshire Wheel keeps on rolling

Berwickshire Wheel keeps on rolling

She is just one of 600 people who are elderly or have disability or mobility problems who are clients of the service which see volunteer drivers take people to appointments and social engagements for a minumim fare.

In the last financial year, the service, which is part of the Berwickshire Association for Voluntary Service (BAVS), covered over 80,000 miles to fulfil 9000 passenger journeys.

Mrs Innes said: “I have been a regular passenger since 2010.

“I heard about Berwickshire Wheels from my friend, and since I found out about them, they have always had answers to my problems.

“My family live in Morebattle and there’s no way I could get there without help.

“It’s about 50 miles each way, but the fares are so reasonable. The last time it cost me £35 for a 100-mile, door-to-door trip.

“They pick me up on Saturday morning and bring me back on Monday morning.

“But I wouldn’t be able to do it without great difficulty or expense.”

Duns-based Berwickshire Wheels is a service funded by Scottish Borders Council and the Scottish Government with financial support from BAVS, donations from groups and individuals and the affordable charges made to the service users.

It has been running since 2003 when a need to support people with mobility problems was identified.

The aim of the service is to improve transport within the Berwickshire area allowing people with disabilities or mobility problems to go out when, where and with whom they wish.

It enables people to adopt a more independent lifestyle and play a more active role in community affairs.

Allister Hart, service development officer with the Berwickshire Wheels said: “We have a small group of volunteers who last year gave over 3000 hours of their own time to be drivers.

“We mostly help elderly and disabled people who don’t have access to a family care or perhaps live in a rural area with no buses.

“We take them to hospital appointments, social centres, shopping or events with family.

“Trips could be local like going to the health centre in Duns or to the Western General in Edinburgh.”

The project is also an award-winner.

In 2008, it won both the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Award for voluntary service and Scottish Transport’s dedication to access for all Award.

A year later the National Transport Awards highly commended the service for its dedication to access for all.

And just last year, it was awarded the Transport Times’ Accessible Project of the Year.

Allister said: “That award was for the development of the transport hub in October 2015 which brought community transport operators under the one roof for the Borders.

“It meant that people just had to call one number – 0300 456 1985 – and one of the operators would help.

“It has made things a lot easier for clients and operators.”

Berwickshire Wheels runs seven vehicles based in Duns, Coldstream and Eyemouth.

The fleet includes a Nissan Leaf, an electric car to reduce costs and carbon emissions.

But the projects volunteers remain its real driving force.

There are around 20 drivers at the moment, but Allister says that the service urgently needs more.

Euan Mutch from Ayton became a volunteer driver after seeing first hand what the service meant to him and his mother.

He said: “As my mum’s carer, I knew how important it was to my mum and to me.

“I become interested in doing it and I can say that it is the most rewarding thing I have ever done in my life.

“For some of my clients, I am the only person they see apart from their carer.

“You can tell how much it means to them - some people give you a cuddle.

“In fact the Eyemouth bus is known as the cuddle bus.

“It’s an important role because people can be anxious if they are going to hospital, so it’s good to have a chat and it helps to have a sense of humour.

“I find it very rewarding and I have made good friends.”

Jackie added: “God bless the Berwickshire Wheels and long may it keep on turning.”

If you are over 25 and interested in joining the team of volunteer drivers, call 0300 456 1985.