Northern Soul and People’s Powerhouse are continuing our partnership to share good new stories about businesses, people and communities coming together in the North of England during the COVID-19 crisis. As the country begins to loosen lockdown restrictions, we’re talking to Northerners doing excellent work across the region.
This week we chat to Cathy Mitchell, deputy leader for Warrington Council who, as part of her council role, set up Burtonwood and Winwick Community Bus, a charity providing transport for the communities of Winwick and Burtonwood.
Northern Soul: What inspired you to set up/start Burtonwood and Winwick Community Bus?
Cathy Mitchell: I became a councillor for Burtonwood and Winwick in 2016. I talked to lots of residents and they told me repeatedly that they could not get around because of the lack of public transport. There was no bus service from the village to the nearest shopping centre, opticians, hospital or dentist and the service to our nearest GP wasn’t good and has since dropped to an hourly service. I started the service by borrowing a minibus from another community project for two days per week and it’s grown from there.
NS: What challenges have you faced during the COVID-19 pandemic?
CM: We had many volunteers coming forward to help, so they needed training and DBS checks. At the same time, a lot of our existing volunteers couldn’t help because they were shielding. We also lost a source of funding as we normally charge a fare on trips, so we had to quickly come up with a safe way of working and ensure that everyone was working that way.
CM: A lot of the population have stayed indoors during lockdown. They have been unable to go to the shops and pharmacy. People living alone have become more isolated and people suffering from mental health issues have suffered too.
NS: And how have they come together?
CM: The community response has been amazing. We had lots of people wanting to help and there was a strong sense of people caring for one another and doing everything they could to support.
NS: Have you been surprised by the reaction to your work during this time?
CM: I think that we have become more visible and have been helping people who haven’t used our service before. We’ve been amazed by the generosity. Lots of people have given us donations and that has helped to keep us going.
CM: As lockdown is easing there is a sense that some people are wanting to start travelling on our buses again. We’ve been transporting passengers throughout the crisis including key workers and people attending hospital appointments. We’ve been updating our COVID-19 policy regularly throughout, and I’m grateful for the guidance and advice from the Community Transport Association. We’ve used our bigger bus, Bertie, for carrying passengers because you could achieve the 2 metre social distance between driver, passenger assistant and passenger. I measured it. But as the guidance changes, we will adjust accordingly.
NS: What’s the most positive moment/thing you’ve experienced during the crisis?
CM: It’s been really positive to be part of a team that has been a lifeline for local residents during this crisis – it’s a privilege, really. We’ve had funding support from Cheshire Community Foundation and our local parish councils and have been able to get our accessible bus back on the road, meaning that we could transport people safely, so we are now back up to full strength. Our admin team were also calling isolated or vulnerable residents regularly to check that they were OK, and they really appreciated that contact.
CM: I think that some things will return to normal, but I hope that not everything does. I hope that we can keep hold of the sense of community and kindness that we felt during lockdown. I don’t think I’ve ever felt before the community pulling together in the same direction. It would be good if that becomes the ‘new normal’.
For more information about Burtonwood and Winwick Community Bus, please visit the website.