Local News

Working together to help the socially isolated around Andover

Work has begun on the renovation of a new multi-media community bus.

The bus acquired by Love Andover with help from Her Majesty’s government and players of the National Lottery has been internally stripped back to enable the building of a new learning area, small TV and radio studio and a social area.

The bus will be used to combat social isolation, an unspoken issue that faces many people of all ages across the Andover area.

Statistics show that those who rarely see people and communicate with others are ten times more likely to die early. According to the National Consumer Council, the cost to the NHS to providing care for those deemed ‘socially excluded’ is in excess of £1bn.

A group of volunteers began the renovation work on Friday. Test Valley Borough Councillor John Cockaday – a former coach-builder and US-born Rob Martin began the process, with help from a group of four other local volunteers after a call was made for assistance late last year.

People with experience in electrical, mechanical and design as well as willing helpers worked in rainy conditions to fill the largest skip available from local company Andover Mini Skip Hire.

The team from Andover Radio were awarded a grant from the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and the National Lottery because of their commitment to providing community development projects.  The organisation was awarded £77,000 to design and deliver community projects to reduce social isolation.

Renovation Project Manager Rob Martin, a former mechanical design engineer for the NASA Orion spaceship said, “I am really happy to help out. I love what the Love Andover team are doing and happy to offer my help.”

Mr Martin who worked at the space agency’s Langley Research Centre recently faced having to leave the UK and his British wife Kerry. Mr Martin is his wife’s full-time carer because of her fibromyalgia; a condition which causes pain all over her body. However, the Home Office said last year that she’s ‘not ill enough’ for her husband to stay in the UK.

In November 2018 the Andover community, with help from Andover Radio, rallied together to keep Mr Martin with his loving wife in the UK.

Now proudly showing off his British National Insurance card, Mr Martin is able to remain in the UK, gain employment and care for his wife.  An effect of Mr Martin returning three thousand miles to the US would be the risk of Mrs Martin being on her own and feeling ‘alone’.

Rob Martin and volunteer strip bus interior

Love Andover Community Development Director Maurice Sweeney said, “Social isolation is an issue that’s very hard to tackle. Connecting communities, like young people, our older generation and engaging military families with the local civilian world are our first three projects.

“We’re proud to be close to signing agreements with agencies like the Army Welfare Service (AWS), Unity and a host of community groups to allow them access to our new bus. Of course we are always seeking to work with other organisations that might benefit from this asset”.

Working with AWS, the community bus project plans to design and deliver on-site activities using the bus’s on-board media centre to help young people build their social and emotional resilience.

“We will provide AWS with a qualified youth worker”, says Mr Sweeney, “We will also supply physical resources and bespoke workshops to support the emotional needs of young people. Soft skills like communication and meeting deadlines will be a core part of the informal education received and we hope this may in some part act as a fun, engaging crime diversion tactic.”

For Andover’s older generation, the bus project is working to engage with people aged over 50 to talk about their life experiences, the content from which will be used to create a series of audio or video features.

“Often times, older people just want to talk and have some company”, continues Mr Sweeney. “The bus will go to those who are isolated because of geography or ability and invite them to share their stories with us. And they can have a nice cup of tea!

“We should support our town’s older people and learn from their life experiences.”

The Leyland Lynx bus from the mid-80s is in surprisingly good condition after being maintained by a bus enthusiast from Manchester.  It retains some original features such as the destination blind roller.  The vehicle is planned to be repainted and coloured by a local Andover business.

Busman’s holiday: John Cockaday

The initial stages of the bus’s development and an expression of future plans will be presented at the Andover Vision stakeholders’ meeting on Tuesday at Andover Guildhall.

The presentation sessions will be hosted by Andrew Middleton, an expert on charity strategy and effectiveness, who joined the Love Andover team recently. He will help create a robust, strategic direction for the not-for-profit community organisation.

Andrew has worked with local, regional and national charities and has experience of running local empowerment campaigns. He is the catalyst for a new ‘Love Andover, Love Giving’ campaign to help increase the percentage of monies given to charity to go to local causes.

The Love Andover team continue to look for volunteers for projects, people who may be able to assist with the vehicle or small amounts of funding or assistance to buy equipment and additional resources. Anyone willing to assist can call Love Andover on 01264 883100 or email here.

Bodywork: patched
Interior: a messy affair
Love Andover Community Bus before renovation
Studio: Needing a lot of improvement
Please remain seated - seating area for Love Andover community bus
Please remain seated: new social area being made ready
Love Andover Radio Bus Renovation Project from DCMS Big Lottery Fund
Messy affair: after one day’s renovation work