It’s a Monday afternoon in mid-July in Aviemore, a town nestled in the heart of the Cairngorms National Park in the Scottish highlands. Aviemore is well known for its outstanding natural beauty and is a popular tourist spot for hiking, skiing and sightseeing. It’s also home to Badenoch and Strathspey Community Transport Company, who recently celebrated their twentieth anniversary.
BSCTC was established in 1997 as a car scheme which focused on providing transport to enable people to attend medical appointments. While the area is beloved for its beautiful scenery, rural life can create problems for accessing transport. This is particularly the case as people age and have less access to cars, or are unwilling to drive in the darker winter months. This can lead to sections of the community becoming isolated in their own homes, unable to access shops, healthcare services or visit friends and family. Over the past twenty years, BSCTC have aimed to address these issues by providing accessible transport to enable people to continue to participate in their communities and live well independently.
On Monday afternoons, BSCTC transports local residents to the Strath Sunshine Club, a popular event which offers varied activities such as speakers, musical afternoons and craft sessions, along with tea and cake.
Today, volunteer driver Kenny is in charge of the BSCTC minibus which travels around the town, picking up passengers from their homes and dropping them at the club. Kenny has been driving for BSCTC for about 18 months, and is enthusiastic about the great asset that BSCTC is to the local community. He explains that the transport provided by BSCTC is a lifeline to older residents in the area. It creates and sustains friendships, builds community, and simply makes many people happy on a daily basis as it brings them out of their homes and enables them to shop, socialise and enjoy community life.
When asked what the best part of volunteering is, Kenny immediately replies, ‘The people.’ He explains that he gets huge job satisfaction from volunteering, knowing that he is making a difference in peoples’ lives. And he enjoys chatting with the passengers on the bus, hearing their news and stories about what is happening in the town.
All the passengers also enjoy the opportunity to chat during the bus journey. Everyone knows each other, and there is much laughter and joking on the way to the club. Every time a new passenger gets on the bus, they are warmly greeted by those already on board. Everyone talks at once, and all are full of enthusiasm for the afternoon’s activities.
Sheila and Joan are passengers on the bus this Monday. Both are eager to emphasise how great BSCTC is, and the enjoyment they get out of using the service. Sheila adds that she couldn’t fault the BSCTC and the great care that all staff and volunteers take with each passenger, helping them on and off the bus, making sure that everyone is comfortable, and demonstrating genuine concern for each passenger’s wellbeing.
And the passengers keep Kenny on his toes, too. When he makes a wrong turn, a chorus of cheery voices shout out that he’s gone the wrong way and tease him about forgetting one of the gang.
After dropping the group off at the club, Kenny takes the bus back to BSCTC headquarters in Aviemore where the office team are busy taking bookings for the week ahead. BSCTC has grown and evolved over the past twenty years, responding to the needs of the local community and the people it serves. It is currently under the management of Maggie Lawson, who explains that after setting up the car scheme, BSCTC quickly realised that good transport could provide so many benefits for older people and people with reduced mobility. Now, BSCTC have a dual focus of ‘health and wellbeing’. Alongside the car scheme, they offer a busy schedule of lunches, dinners, outings, and shopping trips which provide people with opportunities to meet new faces, socialise with old friends, shop and carry out their errands. The weekly trips to Aviemore supermarkets are particularly popular, as shoppers often meet together for lunch before doing their shopping.
The BSCTC also offer several registered bus routes which run throughout the week providing door-to-door transport for communities in Carrbridge, Boat of Garten, Glenmore and Cairngorm, amongst others. Passengers hop on the buses to go for coffee with a friend or to visit a relative in a neighbouring village. While the social aspect of BSCTC has expanded, Maggie emphasises that good transport remains at the heart of everything that they do. Accessible, reliable, local transport is the key which unlocks all the other opportunities which BSCTC offer residents of Badenoch and Strathspey.
As the ladies travelling on the Monday afternoon bus made clear, after twenty years of faithful service, BSCTC is beloved by the community it serves and is a vital part of many people’s daily lives. As they look forward to the next twenty years, the team at BSCTC can be proud that the transport they provide for the local community is a lifeline, a support system and a lively social network all rolled into one.
If you’re interested in volunteering for the BSCTC or want to find out more about the services they provide, visit their website http://www.ct4u.co.uk