Bus pass scheme extended to include carers in North Devon

A disabled Yelland woman is looking forward to a new lease of life after North Devon Council agreed to fund an extension to the concessionary bus fare scheme. Wendy Hillings, 59, suffers from the skin condition EB (epidermolysis bullosa) and dreads public

A disabled Yelland woman is looking forward to a new lease of life after North Devon Council agreed to fund an extension to the concessionary bus fare scheme.

Wendy Hillings, 59, suffers from the skin condition EB (epidermolysis bullosa) and dreads public transport because the slightest accidental touch from another person or object causes her skin to erupt into excruciating blisters and open wounds, leading to weeks of ill health.

Now the council's Executive has approved funds to pay for a companion fare scheme, meaning Wendy and others like her who need the assistance of another person can enjoy simple things such as going out for trips which others take for granted.

At the last count some 65 people in North Devon would qualify for the scheme, at a cost of �13,000 and the Executive voted unanimously to approve it for commencement in September, and to review it again in October 2010.

Wendy and her husband Peter have already seen their lives improve after their dog Edward was provided by the Canine Partners charity, but although the clever two-year-old golden retriever can fetch help, empty the washing machine and even take money from a cash machine, he can't ask people not to bump her on the bus.

"I think they have done a wonderful job in such a short time," said Wendy, whose condition is so severe it also affects the internal linings of her body, making breathing difficult and restricting what she can eat.

Most Read

"It means I can go out again and take somebody with me on the bus. My skin comes off at the slightest knock, if someone sits beside and does not understand I have this condition - in the past I've had skin knocked off my ankles and elbows.

"So this means I have more independence and it also gives Peter more independence, too."

Wendy and others like her used to benefit from a companion fare under the previous Devon County Council concessionary fare scheme, but when a new national scheme was brought in during April 2008, the management was passed on to district councils and the extra companion pass was lost.

It was her case which prompted local district councillors Dick Jones and John Gill to work with Brian Holmes, the council's head of community and leisure services, to bring the proposal for a companion fare scheme before the executive.

"We're happy to be involved with this and it highlights the situation for people like Wendy," said Mr Jones.

"The mechanics of it still need to be worked out, who is going o operate the scheme and the type of pass which will be issued.

"The person who has done all the work is Brian. I've worked very closely with him on this and appreciate what he has done."

Mr Jones said he hoped that once the scheme was reviewed in 2010 it could become a permanent feature.

Mr Gill added: "I am just very pleased we have been able to make such a big difference to somebody's life."

For Wendy and Peter Hillings, they no longer feel restricted by what they can do or afford. The first place Wendy wants to visit by bus when the new scheme arrives in September is Lynton, to sit on the cliff top with her husband and Edward to enjoy the view.

Following a review with the Devonwide Partnership, Stagecoach has agreed to extend its concessionary fare service time to 9am, at no extra cost and this is now in operation.

Anyone who wants to find out more about Canine Partners can visit www.caninepartners.co.uk.

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter