Go Start Community Transport determined to overcome crisis despite facing possible loss of Sudbury headquarters due to closure of Age UK Suffolk
A community transport charity has called on Sudbury to help fill the holes left by the closure of Age UK Suffolk, which has dealt a significant blow to two long-running local services.
Communities across Suffolk are reeling from the announcement that the Age UK will cease services across the county from Friday, after revealing that the financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic meant it could no longer afford to continue.
Among the casualties is the Chilton Centre in Sudbury – home of Age UK’s Chilton Club, a popular social group for elderly people.
Go Start Community Transport, which has a sub-tenancy agreement with Age UK, also faces losing its head office and storage space for its five vehicles, unless it can reach an agreement to retain its position in Martins Road.
Despite the setback, the charity has resolved to continue plans to resume its dial-a-ride service starting on Tuesday, serving people in Sudbury and the surrounding area.
John Phillips, Go Start founder and treasurer, is now appealing for anyone who may be able to take over the running of the Chilton Centre to come forward, and urged other local charities and organisations to support affected residents.
“If there’s somebody in the community who has the knowledge to run a community centre, there’s a ready-made building and lots of people waiting,” he told the Free Press. “I just hope somebody steps up to the plate.
“People need these social activities. We’re talking about people who are 70 or 80 years old, who have been sat at home for four months.
“We’re absolutely going to get dial-a-ride up and running. If we end up with our vehicles parked out on the street, so be it, but I don’t want to have to do that.”
Mr Phillips confirmed Go Start is trying to come to an arrangement to remain at the Chilton Centre, stating it would be difficult to find a suitable alternative base of operations in the Sudbury area.
He explained the coronavirus lockdown has had an “immense financial impact” on the charity, but resolved that they would come out on the other side of the crisis, to ensure the passenger services are available for those who need them.
Addressing the loss of the Chilton Club, he added that its importance to many of Go Start’s regular users could not be overstated.
“We have been taking passengers to Age UK for the last 14 years,” he said. “Prior to the lockdown, we were looking at about 50 passengers per week.
“You can’t measure the importance for these people. It was a very significant thing.
“We’re talking about people who may not see anyone else for three or four days at a time. A lot of people live on their own, so they would go there, get a decent meal and enjoy having company.
“It’s more than just a club. It’s very much a social centre for elderly people and people with dementia.
“From my point of view, Go Start is a pretty critical service. People need to get out of their four walls, meet their friends, go shopping and do other things like go to the doctors’ surgery.”
Sheila Vincent, a regular passenger for the last three years, told the Free Press she would be badly affected if the closure of Age UK impacted Go Start.
“I think it’s a wonderful organisation for local people,” said Sheila, who lives near Cats Lane. “I can’t praise them enough and I couldn’t do without them.
“The drivers are absolutely charming and very helpful. The organisation always helps to fit you in when it suits you and when you need it most.
“It’s really very commendable. It has been an absolutely huge help and I’ve missed them terribly during the lockdown.”
Go Start suspended its door-to-door dial-a-ride service in March, but maintained services for people needing to attend hospitals and GPs, transporting more than 100 residents to and from appointments since April.
The charity also continued its twice-weekly service between Sudbury and Bildeston, serving villages including Chelsworth, Monks Eleigh, Brent Eleigh and Great and Little Waldingfield, due to the lack of other available services.
In addition, it has worked with Sudbury Town Council to collect and deliver medical prescriptions for people who are self-isolating, with 300 collections carried out as of the end of last week.
This service will end on Tuesday, as the dial-a-ride service resumes on the same day, initially operating on Tuesdays and Thursdays only.
For more information about Go Start and its services, go online to gostart.org.uk.
More by this authorThomas Malina
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