End of the road for pilot scheme aimed at connecting isolated communities

Mick Smith-Howell, driver of the Bungay SHoppa pilot bus

Mick Smith-Howell, driver of the Bungay SHoppa pilot bus - Credit: Bungay Events and Business Association

A community transport pilot aimed at connecting isolated villages has ended after a lower than expected usage.

Delivered by the Bungay Events and Business Association (BEBA) and BACT Community Transport, the scheme offered vital transport to Wainford, Shipmeadow, Barsham, Ilketshall St Andrew, Ilketshall St John, Ilketshall St Lawrence, Ilketshall St Margaret, South Elmham St Peter, South Elmham St Michael, All Saints, Rumburgh, Homersfield and Flixton.

It offered residents in the Saints area an opportunity to travel into Bungay for market days from October.

Bungay Shoppa service

BACT general manager Debbie Blowers, Bungay Events and Business Association chair Didy Ward, Councillor Judy Cloke and driver Mick. - Credit: East Suffolk Council

Sponsored by a grant from East Suffolk Council's Community Partnership fund and a substantial donation from district and county councillor Judy Cloke's East Suffolk Council Enabling Communities fund, the Bungay SHoppa trial ran for 15 weeks.

The SHoppa bus, driven by Mick Smith-Howell, became a familiar sight in the villages north and south of the A144, although the picturesque roads were not without hazards, with some impassable during the winter.

Despite attracting a small and loyal number of passengers, Mr Smith-Howell often found himself with just one or two passengers on board.

Councillor Judy Cloke said: "I visit the villages in my ward regularly and a recurring theme when meeting people has been the lack of rural public transport.

Most Read

"Active and sustainable transport solutions is also one of the priorities of the East Suffolk Community Partnerships, so it was encouraging to find BEBA members were thinking along the same lines as I.

"This has been a good opportunity to work together and provide a pilot which, while not as heavily used as I would have hoped and expected, we have learned much from this scheme and this will help in the development of other projects."

While the impact of Covid-19 may have been a factor in the low passenger numbers, the group believe the pilot has shown there isn't sufficient demand for a regular service between the Saints and Bungay.

BEBA chair Didy Ward said: "The lack of any kind of public transport linking the Saints to Bungay was recognised when BEBA, along with Bungay Town Council, drew up our Town Centre Action in 2019.

"With councillor Cloke's backing, we felt the time was right to try and rectify that through this pilot scheme.

"I rode the route with Mick on the return journey one Thursday and it was a real treat to see the wonderful views around the Saints with no fear of getting lost.

"It gave me an idea that perhaps BEBA, with a commercial mini-bus service, could run excursions in the summer months for visitors to Bungay to also enjoy the magic that is the Saints."

Lessons learned from the pilot project will inform another mini-bus scheme BACT hope to run in the northern parishes of Lowestoft.

Debbie Blowers, BACT manager, said: "Our dial-a-ride service could be used by any group of people getting together to go out, whether that is to Bungay, Halesworth or Beccles, for shopping or any other reason, and we also run a Community Car service for individuals."

Anyone looking to get involved and volunteer with BACT is urged to visit bactcommunitytransport.org.uk.