A POPULAR community bus that provides fun and entertainment for young people in isolated communities is back on the road after more than a year, thanks to a grant from Wiltshire Community Foundation.

The Open Blue Trust was awarded £2,000 from the foundation’s Wiltshire and Swindon Coronavirus Response and Recovery Fund to help get its 1988 double-decker Leyland Olympian bus out of mothballs.

The bus is equipped with toys, games, TV and music and had been making regular visits to MoD and travellers’ communities across the county before the pandemic. It has spent the intervening months in storage but it made its first community visit since March 2020 on Tuesday when it went to a fun day at Wellington Place near Buckley Barracks at Hullavington.

Chief executive David Sandberg said the grant was essential in helping staff and volunteers get the vehicle back into service.

“The bus has survived very well apart from some minor gearbox repairs and we are very fortunate that it is stored in a barn in dry cool air, which is the best thing you can do,” he said.

“The grant has been very helpful because it just eased things with the cost of servicing, which can be quite a big bill, and getting it through its MOT. We were also able to pay the road tax and insure it again.”

The Hullavington fun day was run in conjunction with the Army Welfare Service.

The bus was donated by Stagecoach four years ago to replace an older bus and comes complete with a play area and a climbing wall. Younger children in the communities it visits, particularly the travellers’ sites, are less likely to go to play groups and miss out on developing social skills, which puts them at a disadvantage when they start school.

The trust’s visits also break down barriers for other agencies, such as health visitors, the Rise children’s centre and public health workers, by bringing their staff along.

The trust received grants worth more than £8,000 last year from the community foundation to cover bus maintenance costs and fund activity packs which were delivered to the communities the bus was unable to visit.

Mr Sandberg, who was chairman of trustees until he succeeded former chief executive Andrew Weeds this year, said he wants the bus back out on regular visits to communities by next month.

“In September we’d like to get back to doing what we’d normally do for the community,” he said. “We do have a slight issue in that when we convinced the MoD there was a need at Buckley Barracks, it converted a couple of houses into a drop-in centre at Hullavington but that has been closed for 18 months and needs a bit of repair work before we go back into it.”

He said he is hoping to get back to using the bus for after school clubs and fun days at the travellers’ site at Thingley and communities in Burbage, Upavon, Calne, Rudloe and Colerne.

“Longer term we’d like to find ways of expanding the work across more of the county but that means finding more funds and volunteers,” he said.

Wiltshire Community Foundation joint chief executive Fiona Oliver said: “Open Blue Trust does a wonderful job of connecting with young people in isolated communities who might otherwise miss out on opportunities to play, create and explore new activities.

“During the pandemic the trust adapted its services brilliantly and we were so pleased to be able to fund that. Now the bus is back on the road and we are delighted our donors’ generosity has made that possible.”

To find out more about the community foundation’s work, go to wiltshirecf.org.uk.