By: Richard Davison

A Catlins pensioner is driving a move for a new community bus to help reduce rural isolation.

Tahakopa resident Don Sinclair was inspired to launch the project after viewing the gradual disappearance of older friends and acquaintances from the district, as health issues and driving restrictions affected them.

The 74-year-old treasurer of the Catlins Senior Citizens Club said as people got older, renewing driving licences became harder.

”We’ve seen a pattern developing where otherwise able people who would like to continue to live in their rural homes lose their driver’s licence, and quickly find it’s impossible to keep body and soul together due to the isolation and distances out here.

”But with a community bus heading to the shops once a week, suddenly things become practical again.”

Once a means of transport was established, other options such as hospital visits for medical appointments could be considered, he said.

”We’ve seen other areas like Clinton do it successfully … why can’t we?”

Clinton Senior Citizens Club president Reg Smith, who is also one of the club’s volunteer bus drivers, offered encouragement.

Members of the public had clubbed together to purchase the Clinton bus for about $15,000 in 2009, and lottery funding helped offset annual running costs, he said.

”The joy and practical help it’s brought to the community are immeasurable. Each week we take people shopping, alternately to Gore and Balclutha, and run other trips besides.

”Passengers just pay a fair, subsidised fee to make their contribution and keep it all running.”

Although the Clutha District Council had not contributed to the Clinton bus, Sinclair believed CDC could, perhaps, help ”kick start” the Catlins project, and had raised it at a recent community consultation.

Clutha Mayor Bryan Cadogan praised the concept, while stopping short of any financial commitment.

”Isolation is one of the bonuses and challenges of rural living, particularly for the elderly, and we’ve seen … how groups like Clinton’s successfully overcome these obstacles.”

Cadogan said the council would be willing to open discussions with Government in support of funding for any project.

Source: The Country

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