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Charity Wivey Link hit by fuel prices and volunteer shortages

Charity TRANSPORT Wivey Link was this week grappling with the twin challenges of soaring fuel prices and declining numbers of volunteer drivers.

With petrol prices averaging around £1.90 a liter and diesel even more expensive at a decimal point below £2, the car-sharing charity’s overhead has risen significantly since February , when petrol averaged £1.48 and diesel £1.52.

At the same time, he has seen the number of volunteers driving his vehicles drop by around a third from pre-Covid levels.

To date, Wivey Link has managed to absorb the increased fuel costs without having to pass them on to its passengers.

President Pauline Homeshaw told the Wellington Weekly/Free Press this week: “We have to face it because we have no options. We are very reluctant to pass the costs on to our passengers.

Wivey Link was created to combat rural isolation, but today the service is open to anyone of any age who does not have access to transport or who has a chronic illness or disability.

It operates from 8am to 6pm on weekdays for registered passengers who must pre-book by 11am the day before on 01984 624666.

Ms Homeshaw said: ‘We raised our rates at the start of the year for financial reasons, but that was before the price increases started to have an impact.

“You cannot continue to pass the costs on to vulnerable people who, for the most part, have no other option.

“The people we transport often live alone and isolated and they need us. Taxis are impossible for them to consider, even if people wanted them.

Fares currently start at £4.56, varying according to journey time and for holders of a discount bus pass.

Ms Homeshaw said the types of journeys Wivey Link was used for had changed in recent times as people needed more than just attending medical appointments.

She said: “We literally have to absorb the costs and hope things stop being so extreme. It’s like everyone else, you have to reduce your expenses.

“We are not going to let this crisis harm us or disadvantage our passengers because we are here to help them, because they have nothing else.”

Ms Homeshaw said an equally big issue for the charity was finding enough volunteer drivers to meet demand or rides.

The charity had 44 drivers before the pandemic, but today there were only around two-thirds.

“It sounds like a lot, but you have five cars a day in the whole area,” Ms Homeshaw said. “It’s sticky at times, especially during holiday periods when the drivers are away and you have holes you can’t fill.

“We are just walking. We cannot let down our passengers who have supported us for 20 years.

Ms Homeshaw said people were still being cautious after the Covid pandemic about what they were doing on a day-to-day basis.

She said: “I think a lot of people have taken the opportunity during Covid to rethink what they are doing in their lives.

“People who were with us have decided not to come back, and trying to get new volunteers is as difficult as trying to get staff.

“We are not alone in this. Many charities have the same problem.

Ms Homeshaw said Wivey Link drivers personally benefited from the experience as they met all kinds of people, many of whom had fascinating stories to tell.