Friends of the 597 (Fo597)
Be a Friend of the 597, Use it or Lose it
Friends of the 597 is a constituted Community group set up in April 2015 to sustain the 597 bus service. The service was originally subsidised by Cumbria County Council, but the subsidy was withdrawn, leaving many elderly, vulnerable residents without any means of transport. This reduced their ability to retain their independence.
Friends of the 597 was set up by a group of concerned residents and a Steering Committee of 10 volunteers was formed to fulfill the need to raise awareness of the 597 Bus Service and encourage greater use, and to raise sufficient funds by grants, donations and fundraising activities to pay the required subsidy in order for the service to continue.
The 597 provides 6 circular journeys on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays between 9.35am and 12.35pm. The bus travels through well populated areas and the service is 'Hail and Ride', enabling many passengers to catch it very easily. Being able to use the bus encourages residents to maintain their independence by being able to reach the Health Centre (the bus stops right outside), shops, banks and other facilities, not least maintaining social links within the community and helping to combat loneliness, as taking the bus is quite a social occasion.
The service begins and ends at Windermere Station, where further transport links can also be accessed.
A recent development has extended the last journey on each day to Kendal, something passengers are very appreciative of.
Passengers may use 'now' concessionary cards or pay cash (fares are £1,£1.50,£2.00.
There is much support within the local community for the 597, we have support from our MP, our County Councillor, South Lakeland District Councillors and Windermere Town Councillors.
Since Friends of the 597 was formed the passenger numbers using the bus have steadily increased, this is of course helpful in terms of financing.
The cost for Friends of the 597 to subsidise the bus is currently between £600-£700 each month, when we first started it was closer to £800. We are succeeding, but of course our ultimate aim is to ensure continuation, so the search for funding is an ongoing process.
How would this funding have an impact on your community?
Funding from Skipton Building Society would be a real bonus for Friends of the 597. It would help to ensure the continuity of the service and receiving these donations also encourages others within the community to offer help. Friends of the 597's aim is to not only ensure continuity, but also eventually extend the service further to continue to combat loneliness and isolation.
The current service is provided by a 14 seater minibus, with a driver who really ought to be an honorary member of Friends of the 597. He is kindness personified, helping the frailer passengers with shopping bags and access to and from the bus, without any sign of impatience which is a rare quality these days.
For many passengers the 597 is part of their lives, they rely on it, it helps to make their lives better and is so important in this community. Some of our passengers have now set up monthly standing order payments for Friends of the 597, to help to ensure its survival. That is a small leap of faith.
Since April 2015, Friends of the 597 have raised over £14000. We are currently in a position to pay the required subsidies until February 2018, but of course we are in it for the long haul!
"Allan Sykes, Secretary of the Friends of the 597 Steering Committee:
"The bus service is very valuable to older people. There are a lot of people with no other way of getting about.
The main thing is to get as many people using it as possible. We have had huge amounts of support from the community. The fact that the bus is still running is a great satisfaction.""