Category Archives: Rural economy

“I THOUGHT THEY COULDN’T TAKE AWAY OUR BUSES…?”

WORDS by Naomi Marley
PHOTOS by Andrew Hobbs

“I thought they couldn’t take away our buses… ?
But actually they can, can’t they?”

These were the questions posed to me today by a bemused and upset 64-year-old Betty Kisby from Porlock, when I met her – and countless others – in Minehead’s Wellington Square. Here, a petition to ‘Save Our Buses’ was being signed by hundreds of people in the deflating October drizzle. After signing, rather than drifting off, they hung about chatting with one another, all trying to understand the situation.

A large crowd gathers in Wellington Square Minehead to sign a petition and show their support for the Save Our Buses campain. Photo: Andrew Hobbs
A large crowd gathers in Wellington Square Minehead to sign a petition and show their support for the Save Our Buses campain. Photo: Andrew Hobbs

The background sound from this largely senior gathering was more akin to the low drone at a huge Irish wake than an angry protest. I think that’s probably because people haven’t got their heads around this yet. Many will only have learnt about the cuts – not proposed but finalised, and reportedly without proper consultation – yesterday, thanks to Tony James’ extensive and timely rundown of the situation in the West Somerset Free Press, which also included a call to arms to get biros at the ready from 10am today.

If the overheard conversations were anything to go by, I think that every single person in the Square had probably read that article and they seemed pleased to see several journalists coming to find out more. I’ve rarely had a queue of people wanting to talk to me!

But they also wanted to know if I knew any answers. I was taken aback. I thought I was going to be the one asking questions, like ‘How would losing the bus affect your life?’ But as people milled around chatting, signing, trying to grasp the bombshell, the refrains were everywhere.

“They [the bus company] are actually going to do this aren’t they?”

“Is there NO chance of a reprieve?”

Exmoor Magazine Editor Naomi Marley interviews the Mayor of Minehead Jean Parbrook. Mayor Parbrook was also officially representing local MP Ian Liddell-Grainger Photo: Andrew Hobbs
Exmoor Magazine Editor Naomi Marley interviews the Mayor of Minehead Jean Parbrook. Mayor Parbrook was also officially representing local MP Ian Liddell-Grainger Photo: Andrew Hobbs

Yes, apparently they are.
And no, apparently there isn’t.

The Free Press reported yesterday that, “The buses were financed by the County Council until the First Bus subsidiary, Buses of Somerset, provided a commercial service. The company said it has now been forced to the conclusion that the West Somerset routes are no longer viable.”

Minehead’s Mayor, Councillor Jean Parbrook, gave generously of her time in talking to me, but also seemed weighed down by an apparent lack of hope. “If you think about it, it’s all been a horrible accident,” she said. “Gordon Brown gave people a bus pass which, ultimately, has made the buses unviable. People have said that they would be willing, or could manage, to pay a bit – or all – towards their fare. But it seems like this isn’t manageable.”

“Do you think there is any way this can be rescued,” I asked her, sounding like a stuck clock. She gave me a frown. My Granny would have called it a ‘square look’.

County Councillor Terry Venner seemed to agree. “I think there’s very little hope. But what I want to achieve here is simply to highlight the fact that there is a need for the buses and that this petition has support. If we can get 1,000 signatures today, that’s 10% of the resident population. The aim of the campaign is to raise enough support to persuade the County Council cabinet to seek alternative funding and put the services out to tender. It’s not a luxury we’re talking about. It’s a necessity.

The 101 Town bus provides a vital link to the now out-of-town hospital. Photo: Andrew Hobbs
The 101 Town bus provides a vital link to the now out-of-town hospital. Photo: Andrew Hobbs

“The government has spent millions of pounds getting the message out to people telling them to use public transport, to walk, take the bus, choose any means of transport but the car, yet at the same time they are cutting funding to County Councils so that they, in turn, can’t fund our buses. It’s a vicious circle. We are back to where we started where the car is now king. And if people can’t drive, if they are infirm or simply too old, they are stuck – well and truly snookered. We need to show the County Council what this means.”

Terry was kept incredibly busy as people arrived in ones and twos, in groups of all sizes, on foot, on mobility scooters, in wheelchairs – and in droves on the buses – on the No.10 from Porlock and on the 101 Town bus. These – together with the 14, which runs from Minehead to Bridgwater – will cease at the end of this month. “That just leaves the 28,” said Terry. “Three out of four of West Somerset’s buses – gone.”

Betty Kisby said she wasn’t sure what she’d do. “I use the No.10 two or three times a week. I don’t drive, I have no car. I have lived in Porlock all my life. I use the bus for shopping, the dentist, hospital appointments, meeting friends, all sorts. It’s my lifeline out of Porlock.”

Betty Kisby, who uses the No.10 bus from Porlock to Minehead, two or three times a week. Photo: Andrew Hobbs
Betty Kisby, who uses the No.10 bus from Porlock to Minehead, two or three times a week. Photo: Andrew Hobbs

“Will you have to move?”

“Well I’m contemplating it – if I can get my husband to agree to it.” Betty’s friend uttered an amused groan.

Betty was even more keen that I speak to the couple standing next to her. “They’ve come all the way from Birmingham today!”

John and Sarah Withers who travelled from Birmingham to show their support for the campaign. John and Sarah both use the bus services when they holiday in Porlock every year. Photo: Andrew Hobbs
John and Sarah Withers who travelled from Birmingham to show their support for the campaign. John and Sarah both use the bus services when they holiday in Porlock every year. Photo: Andrew Hobbs

“I’ve been coming down to holiday in Porlock since I was knee high to a grasshopper – actually just one year old,” said Mr Withers. “My wife Sarah and I are regular holidaymakers and we saw it on Facebook and thought we would come down this weekend and sign the petition.”

I’m impressed.

“When we come down on holiday we use the bus, the No.10, out to Minehead and back, which means we can go into town for a meal and a drink, use the facilities and go on the steam train from Minehead to Bishops Lydeard, which we love to do.”

“Will you still come down here on holiday if there is no bus?”

“We’ll still come to Porlock but we won’t be coming to Minehead nearly as much. It’s the businesses in Minehead and Porlock that are going to suffer as well as the bus users, because people will either not come into town from Porlock when they are on holiday and vice versa. So I reckon it will affect the tourism industry quite badly, although for the people who live here it’s even worse; it’s a disaster.”

Mary Mayfield and her 90-year-old husband Ray say the threatened routes provide a vital life-line. Photo: Andrew Hobbs
Mary Mayfield and her 90-year-old husband Ray say the threatened routes provide a vital life-line. Photo: Andrew Hobbs

Ray and Mary Mayfield from Minehead, and their friend Muriel Cracknell, were close by, listening. “I’m 90,” Ray told me. “Although I can still drive, lots of my friends can’t. When you can’t drive any more, like I won’t be able to soon, not having the 101 will mean we just can’t get out around town.”

“That is the 101 right now,” said Mary, and pointed over the road to the bus stop outside Toucan Wholefoods.

 

The 101 town service is one of the threatened routes. It provides a vital link for people in Minehead with the shops and hospital. Photo: Andrew Hobbs
The 101 town service is one of the threatened routes. It provides a vital link for people in Minehead with the shops and hospital. Photo: Andrew Hobbs

Waiting at the bus stop for a full busload of passengers to disembark was a frail gentleman, leaning against the glass of the shelter. He was a delight to listen to, but sadly my recording did not pick up his name. Wracking my brains for the lost name and failing, I posted on the Revive Minehead facebook page this afternoon, asking if anyone could help me. I got plenty of replies.

“The gentleman is Eric Freeman. Well into his nineties, he still does mileage records for the West Somerset Railway,” wrote Steve Martin.

“Yes it’s Eric,” added Emma Stacey. “Lovely man. Smiled as soon as I saw this photo.”

“He spends a lot of time sat in Morrisons lovely man,” wrote Teresa Williams.

I wonder how many of these people would know Eric were it not for the 101 bus. How would he do his volunteer work for the West Somerset Railway? Imagine the prospect of losing just this one part of his life.

The bus driver was very quiet as we paid. We told him where we were from. At first I thought he didn’t want us to talk to him. But in actual fact he was just really sad and upset.

Andy, the driver of the 101 Town bus, fears for his job once the route is closed at the end of October (2016). Photo: Andrew Hobbs
Andy, the driver of the 101 Town bus, fears for his job once the route is closed at the end of October (2016). Photo: Andrew Hobbs

“Is there a chance that you will lose your job with these cuts,” asked our photographer.

“It’s a real possibility, yes. I can see it from all angles. It’s not the bus company’s fault. I blame Tony Blair’s government. They made a promise which it’s financially impossible to keep.”

Eric Freeman uses the 101 Town bus regularly and says if the service goes he will have little choice but to more house to be nearer the shops and doctors. Photo: Andrew Hobbs
Eric Freeman uses the 101 Town bus regularly and says if the service goes he will have little choice but to more house to be nearer the shops and doctors. Photo: Andrew Hobbs

On the bus, Eric looked miserable too but he wanted to talk. I asked him if he lived alone…

“Oh yes, up on the hill.”

“Will you walk into town when the bus is gone?”

Eric Freeman. Photo: Andrew Hobbs
Eric Freeman. Photo: Andrew Hobbs

He threw his head back and laughed. “No, my dear, look at me. I can barely get from the bus stop onto the bus.”

“So, what will you do? Will you move.”

“No choice, my dear. Nothing else for it.”

Imagine that, at 90 odd. It’s absolutely rubbish. I’m 41. I’m not using the bus to get to Minehead yet. There won’t even BE a bus for my generation by the looks of it. But I’d like it if there was a bus for my parents.

I get upset about lots of things in the news, so much of it makes me feel powerless, but usually with local issues there seems to be more chance of influencing the outcome. In this instance I’m not so sure. I think this is a fight, however hopeless it might seem today, to get involved in.

Have you signed the petition? It’s everywhere – in all the local shops and businesses. Actually, thinking about it as I type, we need one online. Who’s up for starting it… ?

PHOTO AT TOP OF PAGE: Mary Mayfield and her friend Muriel Cracknell. Photo by Andrew Hobbs.

NOTES FOR EDITORS

Text © Naomi Marley, Exmoor Magazine
Photographs © Andrew Hobbs

If you work in the media, can help spread the word and would like to use this piece and these images, please email me: editor@exmoormagazine.co.uk or message through our Facebook page: Facebook.com/exmoormagazine.

 

Allerford Spring Open Day: History & Heritage, Food, Forge & Flowers in Somerset

Cross Lane House and Allerford Forge are delighted to announce the upcoming Allerford Open Day on Saturday 11 April (10-4pm), a spring celebration of all that’s on offer in this picturesque West Somerset and Exmoor village.  

470 years old this year, Cross Lane House is a wonderfully preserved late-medieval hotel and restaurant stuffed full of history from the top of its sumptuous oak-beamed rooms to its age-old graffiti-etched wood panelling. On 11 April the hotel will offer visitors conducted tours of this ancient property as well as cookery demonstrations from their inspirational chefs using fresh local and seasonal produce.  There will be a floristry masterclass by renowned local florist Jackie Fry from The Flower Room in the barn. The Cross Lane House Shop – newly re-stocked – will be selling a tempting range of interior design accessories and a selection of craft stalls will be set up in the pretty cobbled courtyard.  Light lunches and parking will also be available.

A few steps further into the heart of the village, visitors to Allerford Forge can watch expert metalworkers and skilled blacksmiths at work. The forge, owned by the National Trust and dating back to the seventeenth century, is home to West Country Blacksmiths and is the perfect setting to showcase this ancient craft (and perhaps pick up a unique gift; West Country Blacksmiths artistic creations are coveted both locally and nationally).

The West Somerset Rural Life Museum, housing thousands of Exmoor artefacts and an extensive photographic archive of the area from the early 1800s to the late 1950s, will be offering free entry all day. The Victorian schoolroom – also on the site – contains original desks, benches, toys and exercise books from the early 1800s.

The day includes a birds of prey display from the Exmoor Owl & Hawk Centre in the rec and an impressive demonstration from chainsaw artist Matthew Crabb. The Village Hall will be open for refreshments. The remarkably preserved village of Allerford is part of the National Trust Holnicote Estate which makes up 12,000 acres of Exmoor National Park and includes wild, rugged moorland, shingle beaches, ancient woodland and, of course, charming thatched villages.

“We’re delighted to be able to highlight all that we have to offer in this often overlooked corner of West Somerset,” says Cross Lane House proprietor Max Lawrence.  “It’s a true celebration of our beautiful village of Allerford and everyone is welcome.”

 

Council Calls on Support for Rural Petition

North Devon Council is lending its support to a petition, which is fighting against proposals to withdraw funding from rural community councils. This is a petition which is relevant wherever you live in the area, so please read on even if you are not in North devon…

The e-petition was set up by Action with Communities in Rural England (ACRE), after it emerged that DEFRA funding could be withdrawn from its network. The network provides advice on various rural initiatives, such as village hall support, community transport schemes and oil-buying clubs.

NDC’s Non Executive Lead for Rural Services, Cllr David Worden, says, “It’s vitally important that the government does not withdraw funding from the ACRE network. It currently enables thousands of projects in rural areas, ranging from the provision of affordable homes, broadband and public transport to supporting the young, the elderly and most vulnerable in our society. For example, it’s the only network that provides advice to the 80,000 volunteers who keep England’s 10,000 village halls alive.

“Without the network’s support, services in North Devon will be hit and more people will become lonely and isolated. We must protect the most vulnerable, so please take the time to sign the e-petition and stop this happening.”

So far, more than 13,000 people have added their name to the e-petition. If an e-petition reaches 100,000 signatures, it is then eligible for a debate in the House of Commons.

To see the petition, please go to the government’s e-petition website. The petition runs until 30 March 2015.