A £60,000 donation from the Rio Tinto Legacy Fund will pay for a North East community bus service to update its ageing fleet.
Bedlington-based WATBus is a charity which operates a fleet of minibuses for a wide range of users including community groups, youth groups, the elderly, disabled and those living in isolated communities or on a limited income.
WATBus transport manager Lynn McIntosh said: “We have an ageing fleet and some of our minibuses are no longer fuel-efficient or cost- effective to run.
“Cuts to public bus services in the area are leaving some residents in isolation, resulting in an increasing demand for our service.
“The money from the Rio Tinto Legacy Fund will be used to purchase two high-quality used minibuses and upgrade our IT system to enable us to operate more efficiently and continue to meet the needs of our users.”
A lot of communities are reliant on the WATBus service, which aims to give freedom of travel and access to facilities across Northumberland, Newcastle, North and South Tyneside and Gateshead.
The charity’s volunteers are a dedicated bunch, even providing a door-to-door service on Christmas Day to enable isolated residents to enjoy a community Christmas lunch.
Joanne Hannay, Rio Tinto regional economic development assistant, added: “WATBus provides a vital service in the local community. The Rio Tinto Lynemouth Legacy Fund has been set up specifically to support long-term, sustainable projects in the local area which will benefit communities for years to come. We are delighted to be able help them.”
Pat McDonald, assistant to the general manager at Rio Tinto’s Lynemouth site, is also a big supporter of the charity.
Her husband Barry, who died in 2011, was the first volunteer driver for the WATBus Newbiggin Nipper service when it launched in November 2010. She said: “Barry was a very kind-hearted man who always put others before himself.
“He was a special person who made friends easily and he loved driving for the charity.
“As a family, we are pleased this donation will help WATBus continue to thrive.”
WATBus currently employs two members of staff and 12 fully- trained volunteer drivers. The charity provides Midas driver training for people who wish to drive for their own community group.
It also runs a service called WATBike, which launched in 2010, to transport bikes and cyclists using a special bike trailer and minibus.