Coronavirus grant helps traveller families stay on board double decker bus of fun
A Coronavirus fund grant will help a community bus project continue bringing vital support to traveller children and their families.
The Open Blue Trust has been awarded £4,995 from the Wiltshire Community Fund's Coronavirus Response Fund, using money donated by Wiltshire Police and Crime Commissioner Angus Macpherson through his £50,000 COVID-19 Response Fund.
The grant will help fund the running costs of the trust's double decker bus equipped with toys, games, TV and music, which visits the Thingley Travellers' Park near Lacock to run play sessions and an after-school club.
Chief executive Andrew Weeds said the grant will be vital in keeping the service running to keep isolated families there connected. "This will make a massive difference to us," he said. "Although we've had the bus off the road during the lockdown we still have to pay for insurances and maintenance, as well as staff costs. We are very grateful."
He said as well as providing fun and entertainment for more than 50 children at the site and giving parents a break, the trust breaks down barriers for other agencies, such as heath visitors, the Rise children's centre and public health workers, by allowing their staff places on the bus when it visits.
"The travellers really like it I think because some of them will come up and ask to see them and as the relationship builds, they spend more time talking to the families, which helps everyone," said Mr Weeds.
"We are like a bridge really, it's a neutral space where agencies are accessible and get to know people and then once they have got the relationship they visit at other times. The agencies then realise it is not unsafe going to Thingley. There can be a lot of fear from agency staff initially but being able to go on the bus and just meet people is a really positive thing for them as well."
The 1988 double-decker Leyland Olympian was donated by Stagecoach two years ago to replace an older bus, and comes complete with a play area, a climbing wall and a TV. Younger children at the site are less likely to go to play groups outside and miss out on developing social skills, which puts them at a disadvantage when they start school.
Mr Weeds said: "The families like the bus going in because it gives them a community space they can all get into. The bus is there all afternoon, including for an after-school club, which attracts around 45 kids. It's a bit manic but they love it and the parents appreciate it because they know where they are, that they are getting something good and they get an hour off.
"Travellers, as an ethnic group, are the most discriminated against in our society at the moment and the bus shows people they aren't forgotten."
With the bus out of action because of the lockdown, the trust, which has been visiting Thingley for ten years, has maintained contact with children at the site, and also with service families at Hullavington, by producing and delivering special family activity packs every three weeks.
Said Mr Weeds: "The packs have been very well received by all the families and when I go in to deliver them, I spend a lot of time talking to the families because some of them are quite lonely. The older ones, the grandparents, are quite scared of getting the virus and they are not going out shopping, so they are quite isolated."
To find out more about the trust go to openblue.org.uk or search for it on Facebook.
Angus Macpherson, Police and Crime Commissioner for Wiltshire and Swindon said: "Many organisations that support our community have been impacted by the Coronavirus, and like the Open Blue Trust need support to continue to deliver vital services in our community.
"The work the Open Blue Trust does helps to reduce the social isolation across our rural county and in the current climate is even more so important when services and facilities for children and young people have not been accessible.
"I am really pleased that I have been able to support the continuation of this work through my COVID-19 Response Fund."
Wiltshire Community Foundation interim co-chief executive Fiona Oliver said: "We are delighted that, with the commissioner's support, we can help groups like the Open Blue Trust to meet the very specific needs of this community, and be there for them during the pandemic.
"It is so important that communities like this don't feel forgotten at this dreadful time and this is exactly why we set up our Coronavirus Response Fund."