More cash needed to keep Wheels in motion

Haydn Austin of Vountary Wheels.
Haydn Austin of Vountary Wheels.

BOSSES of a lifeline transport scheme have appealed for cash to keep their bus on the road.

Voluntary Wheels has been operating in Hartlepool and the surrounding area for 25 years providing low cost transport to the voluntary and community sector, plus elderly and disabled residents.

But the not-for-profit scheme is facing an uncertain future because its 14-seat minibus keeps breaking down.

Co-ordinator Haydn Austin has been told it will cost either £8,000 for a new engine, gear box and clutch or £35,000 to replace the bus with a new vehicle.

The 59-year-old has now made an emotional appeal for any businesses, groups or individuals to come forward with donations.

The dad-of-three, of Cornwall Street, Hartlepool, said: “We have had three major break-downs over the past year costing £10,500, which has swallowed up what reserves we had.

“We are on our last legs. Every journey I take I am constantly watching the dashboard or listening for any noises that may indicate a problem.

“The next time we break down, the bus will be off the road and I will be on the dole.”

Over the years, 190 groups out of 500 voluntary organisations in town have used the service.

Nearly 2,000 passengers a year use Voluntary Wheels, which includes a group of eight volunteers, committee members and drivers.

Haydn, who has been involved for 18 years, added: “At the moment we are having great difficulty in keeping up with our user group demands.

“Many people would not get to see the outside world without Voluntary Wheels.

“We are seeking the help of any kind, generous or prosperous business or individual in buying a new accessible minibus, or the cost of a new engine, gearbox and clutch.

“Any donation would be gratefully accepted,” added Haydn who is married to Jeanette, 49.

The pair have three children, Ann-Marie Austin, 30, Jane Austin, 29, and Danielle Austin, 17.

Voluntary Wheels has been supported by the Hartlepool Voluntary Development Agency (HVDA), the Big Lottery, Hartlepool Borough Council and other trusts who have made donations.

The minibus, which has taken groups to Southampton and London, has been adapted for wheelchairs and can carry up to three at a time.

Prices to hire the minibus start at £35 for up to five hours, £70 for up to 10 hours and £80 for more than 10 hours. The price includes £5 towards the driver’s expenses.

There is a 50p per mile charge for any trips over 30 miles.

Anyone wanting to help can contact Haydn, or Peter Gowland at the HVDA, by calling (01429) 262641 or by writing to Rockhaven, 36 Victoria Road, Hartlepool, TS26 8DD.