Funding boost for transport service

A PROJECT to provide transport for rurally isolated older people in the Banbridge area has been awarded a major grant from the Big Lottery Fund.

Down Armagh Rural Transport Partnership (DART) has been awarded a grant of £158,990 from the Big Lottery Fund’s ‘Reaching Out: Connecting Older People’ programme which supports older people affected by issues such as bereavement, disability or long term illness or who live in residential care or sheltered housing.

The organisation’s Iconnect project will train volunteers aged over 60 to develop and jointly manage a new transport scheme for small community groups working with older people in the Banbridge and Craigavon areas, including older people at risk and those who are socially or economically isolated or excluded.

Volunteers will be trained in skills including minibus driving and passenger assistance, as well as office administration and IT programmes. Over three years the project will aim to provide 10,000 passenger trips to around 200 members of local community groups.

Partnership Director Ian Wilson explained that the plans for the transport project were developed after research showed there was a lack of safe, affordable and accessible group transport for older people’s clubs and organisations in the areas.

“Our research highlighted issues including social isolation among older people and difficulty accessing services, community events and social support networks, and also a lack of awareness of volunteering opportunities for over 60s,” said Ian.

“Small voluntary groups were struggling to maintain weekly social support meetings, build capacity and recruit new volunteers.

“Iconnect will aim to tackle these issues. We will develop volunteering and training opportunities for older people that meet their life circumstances, expectations and positively impact on their health and well-being and their communities.”

He continued: “The project will increase access to essential social support services for over 60s’ groups at risk of exclusion and isolation, enhancing older people’s quality of life in relation to equality, social inclusion, support and health issues.

“Our organisation is extremely excited about ICONNECT and the potential the project has to positively enhance the quality of life for older people at risk.”

Frank Hewitt, Big Lottery Fund NI Chair, said: “We are already seeing the really positive impact that the Connecting Older People programme is having on the lives of our most vulnerable older people during this harsh period of recession in Northern Ireland.”

“The programme is supporting a range of vital projects that are transforming the lives of older people in our communities who at risk of isolation, depression, mental and physical ill health and low self esteem. Our funding is supporting those older people who need our help the most.”