Me and my bus buddy

14 May 2019 | North East England

Bus buddies - Kieran 'driving'

Pioneering scheme links vulnerable youngsters up with responsible adult so they can access public transport.

An innovative new “Bus Buddies” scheme launched by charity Children North East is helping make a difference to the lives of youngsters with special educational needs and disabilities. The scheme enables them to use public transport by partnering them with a supportive adult who not only makes sure they reach their school, college, work or access leisure activities, but also works with them to build up the confidence so they can eventually do it solo.

The project was pioneered by the charity in the Gateshead area and supported by the region’s largest bus operator, Go North East. It has already helped more than 30 young people between 11 and 18 to enjoy a normal life like their peers in their communities.

Youngsters like Kieran Lowery, 16, who has autism and global development delay. His father Wayne Lowery almost burst with pride when he watched his youngest son head off to college for the first time on the bus without him.

His boy was taking a huge leap into independence, and the achievement was all the more remarkable considering that his journey to college involved taking two buses, which would have been impossible for Kieran if it wasn’t for the scheme.

The teenager was partnered with a support worker or ‘bus buddy’ who helped give him the confidence to take on the 12-mile round trip from his home in Sunniside, Gateshead, to Hill Top Specialist Arts College.

For weeks Kieran and his bus buddy Rachel travelled the whole journey together, then Rachel only joined him for parts of the trip, until he felt totally comfortable doing the whole route by himself.

The travel was proving costly, until Go North East offered to give Kieran – and seven others on the Bus Buddies scheme – a free pass which saved the family around £100 a month in bus fares.

Kieran said: “I liked having Rachel with me. She would sort the ticket and help me work out the bus time-table. And I liked having the company.

“Rachel helped me with my confidence so that I could do the journey alone later and get to school.”

And Kieran’s father Wayne said: He said: “I’ve been really impressed with the Bus Buddies scheme. I thought Kieran might struggle to travel by himself, but he’s fine and that’s all down to his bus buddy, Rachel, who worked with him over three months.

“Kieran is obviously quite vulnerable and at first he was a little bit scared. But he soon adapted and learnt the route. Bless him, he has to leave at 7.30am just to get to college on time. But he loves it, and he can’t wait to see all his friends on the bus now.”

Wayne, 43, who has four sons, added: “I can’t tell you how great it is to see him get up, get ready and manage to make his own way to school. It is huge for our family.”

Before the scheme, the local council was having to pay for Kieran to get to college by taxi.

Mark Lowdon, 28, a youth worker from Children North East, explained: “The project not only gets them places but it teaches so much more. Bus Buddies is also about explaining general road safety. We also show our students how to read bus timetables, how to hold your hand out to call for the bus in the first place and to check to make sure you have the right change to pay. It all seems basic stuff, but for our students it is a great learning curve.

“The fact they can learn how to use public transport opens up their world and creates endless opportunities.”

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