The Commbus Project was started in 1992 by the Narborough and District Travel Club as a community transport project following a public meeting in Narborough. The aim was to provide an affordable local transport service in the district for elderly people, or anyone with a disability or limited mobility, who found that the public bus services were too difficult or too infrequent for them to use. Both the Travel Club and The Commbus Project were created and managed in their early years by Douglas Maas, then Clerk to Narborough Parish Council.
The Commbus Project registered as a charity in 1993 (no. 1020299) and funds were raised through events and donations. Grants were received from Narborough Parish Council, other local Parish Councils, Blaby District Council and Leicestershire County Council, who all supported the project. The project group set about learning the legal and safety requirements of running a community transport service, and learned how to operate a minibus. By August 1993 the target of £27,000 was achieved and an order for the first Commbus minibus was placed with Renault Leicester on 7th September 1993.
A phone line was installed to a desk in Narborough Parish Centre to take enquiries and bookings. The first Commbus, a red converted Renault Master, was christened Commbus One and was launched by Rachael Robathan and Andrew Robathan MP in Littlethorpe on 15th January 1994. The first passenger journey took place on 31st January 1994 and Commbus began a Dial-a-ride regular shopping service, initially on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays, serving eight villages in central Blaby District.
Space to securely store the minibus was kindly provided by GEC at their Whetstone works, and a servicing and maintenance contract was secured with Cosby Suppliers. Both of these arrangements continued for over 20 years.
The Commbus drivers, bus escorts, office personnel and management team were all volunteers from around the community. A grant from the East Midlands Development Association in 2005 enabled Commbus to recruit one or two part-time paid drivers up to 2011, but since then Commbus has continued to the present day to exist entirely on volunteer help from local people who give their time freely. All Commbus drivers are MIDAS trained.
The community bus service was developed to include regular shopping journeys and the occasional leisure trip, as more and more local people registered to use it. The Dial-a-ride regular shopping service was subsidised by Leicestershire County Council, an arrangement which continued up to 2011. Since then, Commbus has continued to maintain lower fares.
In the early years, Commbus operated with a single minibus. A new Mercedes Sprinter minibus was purchased in May 1997 and for a year Commbus operated 2 vehicles until the original vehicle was withdrawn and sold in 1998. Thanks to a grant from The Countryside Agency, the remaining minibus was again replaced with a Fiat vehicle coach-built by Rohill in 1999. This was replaced with another (grey) Rohill minibus in March 2002.
In 2004 The Commbus Project became a registered company limited by guarantee (no. 5569601), but retained it’s charitable status (new no. 1117153).
In March 2005, more grant funding enabled Commbus to replace the existing minibus with a Mercedes vehicle, coach-built by Treka. The area served by Commbus had by now grown from the original eight villages to include other towns and villages around Blaby District. By 2005 the growth in demand for Commbus community bus services meant that a second minibus was needed, so in November 2005 with further grant funding from The Countryside Agency and West Leicestershire Rural Partnership, Commbus purchased a second Mercedes Treka-built vehicle, and the service was able to expand with two minibuses Commbus 1 and Commbus 2.
2005 marked the start of a long relationship with Mercedes and Treka. Commbus operated two minibuses and kept the fleet up to date by selling the older minibus and purchasing a new Mercedes-Treka vehicle in October 2009, February 2010, September 2013 and September 2015.
During 2013, Blaby District Council offered to service and maintain the Commbus vehicles at cost at their own vehicle maintenance depot in Whetstone. This arrangement began at the beginning of 2014, ending the long-standing service and maintenance arrangement with Cosby Suppliers.
In 2016, with the planned demolition of Narborough Parish Centre to make way for a new building, Commbus needed new office premises, and were offered a room at low rent above Narborough Congregational Church in School Lane. This served as a makeshift office for over three years.
As the service continued to expand, the Department Of Transport granted funds to enable the purchase in April 2016 of a third minibus, Commbus 3. In November 2018, the oldest minibus was again replaced with a new Mercedes Treka minibus.
In 2017, the management of the GEC works in Whetstone, who had provided safe parking for the Commbus minibuses since operations began in 1994, had to serve notice as the site was to be redeveloped. After a long search for a new home, Blaby District Council again stepped in to support Commbus by leasing at nil cost a small parcel of land behind Huncote Pavilion (leisure centre). Commbus built a secure compound here, where the vehicles have been safely housed since 2018.
By 2018, Commbus was carrying over 3,000 people each year on a modern fleet of three minibuses on trips every weekday to local shopping centres, and occasional leisure trips around the region. Commbus currently serves fifteen towns and villages around Blaby district. Demand for Commbus services fell a little during 2019, so a marketing campaign was launched throughout 2019-20 to make more people aware of the services that Commbus provides.
Agreement was reached with the Narborough Congregational Church Committee in 2019 to convert a room in The Manse building next door to the Commbus office above the church. The Manse was the former minister’s house which was now converted to commercial office and consulting space. Commbus moved into their own custom-converted office in January 2020.
At the end of the first year of operations, in December 1994, the Commbus management provided a Christmas lunch at Narborough Parish Centre for the local people who had so far become regular passengers. It was from this social event that the idea of hosting a regular and affordable social lunch was born, and so in the summer of 1995 the Commbus Lunch Club began every second week and has continued ever since. From 2001 the Lunch Club also hosted a book sale which helped to raise funds. In 2016 the Lunch Club moved to Littlethorpe Village Hall, and in 2019 the book sale in the Village Hall was handed over to Littlethorpe Community Association. The Commbus Lunch Club continues to provide a low cost two-course meal and a social occasion every other Wednesday for local elderly and/or disabled people. Most (but not all) are transported there by Commbus.
CHAIRMEN OF THE COMMBUS PROJECT
- 1992 Bill James
- 1994 Harold Elliott
- 1999 Alan West
- 2018 Olly Curran
- 2019 Kim Richardson
Many local people have given their volunteer time to Commbus as bus drivers and escorts, in the office, or on the management team. Some have served for over many years:
- Michael Cooper was an escort and ran the book sale from 1993 to 2019.
- June Cox worked in the office and then managed the office from 1993 to 2019.
- Olly Curran has managed the minibuses from 1994 to 1996 and again since 2002.
- Maureen Headley has been an escort since 1997.
- Jessie Pickard has been an escort and escort trainer since 1993.
- John Pickard was a driver and then served as Treasurer since 1998.
- Joy Reynolds was an escort and Secretary, and has assisted at the Lunch Club since 1995.
- Jose Sharp has cooked for and managed at the Lunch Club since 1996.
- Eve Tomkins was an escort and has assisted at the Lunch Club since 1993.
- Alan West was a driver, and served as Chairman from 1999 to 2018.
- Val West worked in the office from 1997 to 2017.
- Barbara Wright was an escort and has assisted at the Lunch Club since 1993.
Commbus owes an enormous debt of gratitude to all of these people.