Swindon Dial A Ride has been awarded a £10,000 Wiltshire Community Foundation grant.
The money came from the community foundation's Coronavirus Response Fund, which has so far raised more than £950,000 and distributed more than £600,000 among 167 groups.
Swindon Dial A Ride provides a vital transport lifeline for elderly and vulnerable people, and the grant will help it continue the service when the lockdown eases.
The charity has provided low-cost transport to medical appointments, day centres and lunch clubs, and outings for hundreds of community groups for more than 30 years, but saw its income plummet when the lockdown brought dozens of activities to a halt and marooned regular clients at home.
Director Evelyn Ryder revealed that the organisation, based at the Hawksworth Trading Estate, made 1,700 passenger trips in February but just 46 in May.
She said: “We saw our transport requests drop off a cliff and we have done zero group transport journeys since the lockdown, and that will probably continue for a while because the last thing you want to do is cram a lot of people into a minibus.
“Our difficulty is that people have been saying, ‘You will still be there when we can go out again, won’t you?’ and that was the financial issue we have had because we have 12 vehicles and all the standing costs for those, including maintenance, but we haven’t been getting the fares that go towards covering those overheads.”
The group has furloughed two full-time and one part-time staff member, leaving just Mrs Ryder working.
Mrs Ryder added: “Most of our 18 drivers are volunteers but some have stepped back because of their age or health issues - but we’ve had six who have felt safe enough to do it and want to do it and they have been absolutely brilliant.”
Swindon Dial A Ride has 10 minibuses and two cars with disabled access as well as volunteers who use their own cars. The service has been essential for many people who have needed to get to hospital appointments because taxis are unable to take large electric wheelchairs - and regular clients have built up a rapport with their regular drivers.
“They are a friendly face and they trust them,” said Mrs Ryder. “With the health service opening up again, a lot of what we do is taking people to medical appointments and they really rely on us.”
With the town centre re-opening and three months of isolation taking its toll, Mrs Ryder believes the service will be even more important in the coming months. Minibuses are taking fewer passengers, which makes journeys more expensive.
“I think we will see a gradual uplift in transport requests." she said. "We are seeing some people in sheltered accommodation wanting to start their weekly shopping trips again. People do miss getting out hugely.
“We are really grateful for the grant from the Wiltshire Community Foundation. As a group we need to be there because while some people might think of going food shopping as a nuisance, people with disabilities who don’t get out much see it as an outing.
"It could be the only time they get out and see other people in the week, especially as lunch clubs and day centres may take some time to open again, and it is good for their mental health and their social inclusion.”
Community foundation interim co-chief executive Fiona Oliver said: “Dial A Ride provides invaluable help that really improves peoples’ lives and we are really pleased to be helping them meet the challenges ahead.
"So many groups will be stepping up to meet the needs of their communities, which is why our Coronavirus Response Fund is so important.”
Further information about Swindon Dial A Ride can be found at dialarideswindon.org.uk.
Anybody wishing to donate to the Wiltshire and Swindon Coronavirus Response Fund or find out how to apply for a grant should visit wiltshirecf.org.uk.