In our latest blog we hear from Anita Flanagan, General Manager of Fermanagh Community Transport, on the work they do to provide inclusive and accessible transport in rural Northern Ireland
Anyone who has ever visited Fermanagh, especially on a dry summers day will enthuse about the beauty of the county and how friendly the people are.
This beauty comes at a price in terms of infrastructure and access to services and amenities. Parts of Fermanagh are 120 miles from Belfast and 120 miles from Dublin. The dispersed population of Fermanagh means that vehicles have to travel quite some distance and local settlements are quite small. The added incumbrance of the lakes and mountains make things even more difficult.
Fermanagh is mainly rural and is situated largely in the basin of the River Erne. It is dominated by two connected lakes: Upper and Lower Lough Erne, and, including water, spans an area of 1,851 km². In fact, about 30% of Fermanagh is covered with lakes and waterways.
The county town, Enniskillen, with a population of about 61,805, is the largest settlement in Fermanagh, situated in the middle of the county.
In contrast to its natural beauty Fermanagh has suffered from decades of conflict, economic decline, deprivation, depopulation, underinvestment and the decline of social and community life.
So enter Fermanagh Community Transport (FCT)- the introduction of CT services to the area in 2000 has rejuvenated the local community enabling these areas to provide services and opportunities that were previously untenable due to lack of transport provision. Public transport is non –existent in some areas and the cost of private buses/taxis were beyond the reach of the majority of community organisations and individuals, if they were able to access them at all.
Since the introduction of the Dial a Lift service by Fermanagh Community Transport, over 1,000 individuals a year, use CT to access a range of services such as GPs, local health appointments, visit family members, local shops and other amenities.
Fermanagh Community Transport operates an integrated approach to transport provision. A range of services including Dial a Lift, Community Group Hire and Disability Action Transport Service ( DATS -a partnership approach with Disability Action) ensures that all services are more effective and efficient. These services are provided using a mix of 12 fully accessible minibuses and 22 volunteer car drivers. These volunteers live throughout Fermanagh enabling FCT to be flexible in their ability to provide very local services by local people.
FCT employ a team of 3 administration staff and 8 full time and 1 part time drivers. We also have a pool of casual drivers and 2 volunteer minibus drivers. This work is overseen by FCT’s 8 Board members who support the work of the manager to navigate the challenges FCT faces, ranging from licensing issues to funding cuts. These challenge are in addition to the added pressure of increasing demand for services particularly in health transport.
In 2016/2017, FCT provided 30,000 Dial a Lift (individual) passenger trips along with almost 40,000 trips for local communities and 3,000 DATS trips. Over 25% of these trips were carried out by volunteers
Fermanagh Community Transport is funded by Department for Infrastructure through the Rural Transport Fund along with support from Department for Agriculture and Rural Affairs.
FCT work very closely with local agencies and communities to ensure the services we provide as suitable and we help promote and develop these local communities. Our priority is to reduce social isolation and ensure everyone has access to essential services and amenities.
Our services are vital to anyone living in this beautiful rural area who has mobility issues or no access to a car.
We are certain that our integrated approach to transport provision using mix of minibuses and volunteer drivers is key to ensure the efficiency and flexibility that is required to meet the transport needs of the people in this deep rural area.