For most of us, the bus is simply a way of getting from A to B. But thanks to an initiative from Stagecoach and Age UK, the bus is enhancing the lives of Cumbrian pensioners enabling them to make new friends and see new places.
Loneliness and isolation can be a real issue for older people, particularly those living alone following the death of a partner. Covid exacerbated the problem.
Coming out of the pandemic, the bus operator Stagecoach joined forces with Age UK to launch the ‘Grand Day Out’, an initiative to help older people make friends and explore places and local attractions they might not know.
They travel as a group accompanied by an Age UK representative, using their concessionary passes to travel free on Stagecoach buses to places of interest. Stagecoach lays on lunch while businesses and attractions offer discounts, freebies and experiences to make the trips more memorable.
The latest Grand Day Out saw 20 pensioners join an X5 bus in Cockermouth for the run alongside Bassenthwaite Lake to Keswick where they picked up a 555 double-decker to Wordsworth Grasmere. They alighted at Dove Cottage, once home to the poet William Wordsworth and his talented sister Dorothy, now a museum and visitor centre run by Wordsworth Grasmere.
After a tour of Dove Cottage and gardens, led by senior guide Hazel Clarke, they viewed the ‘To the Lakes!’ exhibition, experiencing the Lake District through words and images captured by tourists 200 years ago.
Dove Cottage provided lunch, paid for by Stagecoach, allowing the group to socialise. Then there was a talk and tour of Jerwood centre, which isn’t normally open to the public, conducted by the Wordsworth Grasmere’s outreach and education officer Catherine Kay.
The Jerwood Centre provides climate-controlled conditions to house the Trust’s extensive collection of 68,000 manuscripts, paintings, books and memorabilia relating to the great British Romantic poets.
Hilary Littlewood, who lives near Ireby, was bowled over by the experience. She said: “It has been absolutely fantastic. Dove Cottage itself is superb. It is so, so interesting.
“We were so lucky to see the Jerwood Centre and have an exclusive talk. We saw letters that Wordsworth wrote and his sister Dorothy wrote. Honestly, it’s mind blowing. It really is. Fascinating doesn’t even come close.”
This was Hilary’s third Grand Day Out, following trips to Carlisle and the Theatre by the Lake at Keswick.
She added: “Each one has been tremendous in its own right. All very different.
“As a group, we get to know each other. People chat. It’s quite a wide age range, actually, from people in their late sixties right up to those in their nineties. We get along well. People make new friendships.
“This is really, really important, frankly, for us and for our group of people. Many of us are on our own now. We’re so lucky to have these opportunities to mix, to get together, to interact and to be with our peers.”
Mary Cardwell, of Cockermouth, loves travelling by bus and would recommend it to anyone wanting to see the Lake District.
She said: “It’s amazing to come on the buses to be able to see the area. You see things through the window of a bus that you don’t see when you drive.
“I would recommend the bus anywhere because it’s so easy to just go out into this beautiful countryside. We’ve got our bus passes, we can do it for nothing, which is amazing when you think about it.”
Annette Collister, also from Cockermouth, said: “I used to go everywhere on the bus until Covid hit. I missed it.
“I have been back on Stagecoach on my own and will do it more often. There is such a lot to see, interesting, beautiful places.” She urged other pensioners to do the same.
“Just step onto that bus,” she said. “It’s all around you. We’re so, so lucky to live in this part of the world. So come on, guys, pick up your bus pass, get on the bus and go and have some fun. It’s great.”
Tom Waterhouse, interim managing director of Stagecoach Cumbria and North Lancashire, is delighted with the response to the scheme.
He said: “It’s heartwarming to hear such positive feedback. We launched Grand Day Out in 2021 to give concessionary pass holders confidence to come back to using buses after the Covid pandemic and show them some of the fantastic places they can visit by bus.
“It has shown that, for many older people, the bus isn’t just a means of transport. It improves their quality of life by allowing them to meet people, make friends and do things and get to places they wouldn’t otherwise see.”
That view is echoed by Nicola Price, of Age UK in Workington, who leads on the Reconnecting Cumbria initiative to alleviate loneliness and social isolation. She travelled with the group to Grasmere.
“It was a fabulous day,” she said. “It’s good to bring people together who don’t necessarily know each other. It was so easy and everyone absolutely loved it. I’m looking forward to the next one.”