VOLUNTEERS have been left devastated by the blazed that destroyed a community minibus.
The team, which works unpaid, has spent the last few years struggling to run the Community Minibus Association (CMA) through the recession.
Flames ripped through the spare minibus from the Storrington division, which was in Steyning because the Steyning division’s bus was away being serviced.
Rodger Hunt, Storrington divisional organiser, said the driver and escort had dropped off their passengers last Wednesday and were returning the minibus to its overnight parking in Dingemans Court, Shooting Field.
Having stopped in the parking bay, they saw smoke coming from the front air vents so they got out and called the fire brigade.
Donna Bailey, older people’s service manager at Dingemans, said staff at the centre smelled burning at around 4pm.
“By the time the fire brigade arrived, the flames were pretty high and the bus completely burnt out,” she said. “Luckily, no one was hurt.”
Lesley Sales from the CMA’s Steyning division said the stand-in bus was important because all six divisions relied on it as a spare vehicle.
“I guess the only good thing to say about the situation is that no one was hurt and a bus is replaceable.”
Mr Hunt said the charity, which has been running for 40 years, had 13 minibuses as a community transport lifeline for many senior citizens throughout rural West Sussex.
It is run entirely by volunteers and the unexpected loss of the minibus had put a severe strain on the CMA budget.
He added: “The association has supported its passenger membership during the recent years of recession by keeping its subscription and fares down as much as possible.
“However, the recession has been a drain on the association’s funds, too, and the maintenance, purchasing and depreciation costs make it more and more difficult to follow a properly budgeted operation into the future.
“A new minibus is £30,000 or more and, as with any charity, we are most grateful for any financial help it can get to replace its losses.”
He said unpaid staff gave up their time ‘to keep the wheels turning’. New drivers and escorts are always needed and the association is also looking for a vehicle manager, to oversee the minibus fleet.
Contact the general secretary, Community Minibus Association (West Sussex), 10 School Hill, Storrington RH20 4NB, or telephone 01903 743954 for more information.