Keeping rural communities connected
We’ve helped local communities in Cumbria stay connected by donating £5,000 towards a volunteer bus service.
The Fellrunner bus service connects people from local villages and isolated hamlets to Penrith and Carlisle. Run entirely by volunteers, it helps those who would struggle to get around otherwise, such as older people and those who can’t drive for medical reasons.
Established by a local vicar and GP in 1979 after several local bus routes were withdrawn, Fellrunner has 11 scheduled services throughout the week, and has become a lifeline for the vulnerable people it supports.
A not-for-profit organisation, Fellrunner currently has 25 drivers, as well as five admin staff. Passengers are picked up from designated places and dropped off at the front door at the end of their trip. If they’ve been shopping, Fellrunner staff even help to carry and unload bags. But for most users, the bus service is about more than access to nearby towns.
James Sisson, Fellrunner trustee and volunteer driver, said: “When I first started driving, I thought it was just about running people into town, but you soon realise it is much deeper than that.
“The average age is about 80, and most of our users can’t afford to use taxis from the villages.
“The people we support can feel very isolated, but these bus trips have allowed them to build friendships with people from other villages and when they get into town and go for lunch together.
“When I first started driving, I had a service user say to me ‘this is the only time I get to meet anybody. I enjoy their company, but when I get back, I’m just in my house all of the time.’ So for many people it’s also a community.
“We had a lady get on who hadn’t been out since her husband died at the start of the pandemic. She was very nervous and had lost her confidence, but her fellow passengers helped her to overcome her fear of going out.
"It’s a very important part of what we do.”
Although Fellrunner gets some financial support from the local council, this doesn’t cover all of the costs. Before the pandemic, Fellrunner would run excursions, with the profit going towards running the volunteer bus services. Not being able to run excursions means that the service lost roughly £5,000, and finances came under a lot of strain as a result.
At British Gypsum we strive to be a good neighbour to the local communities surrounding our sites, and as several of the areas Fellrunner covers are near our Kirkby Thore site, we supported the service by donating £5,000.
James explained: “The donation British Gypsum has given us has helped us to stabilise our finances and keep our services running, even with fewer passengers than usual due to the pandemic.
“Our users know that we have been struggling for money and have been concerned that the services will stop. This donation has allowed me to reassure them.
“British Gypsum has a great reputation in our local area.”
Would you like support for a charitable project near one of our sites? Find out more about our Building Better Communities programme.