A much-loved scheme where children can play on a bus for free needs to raise £50,000 by the end of June to keep it going.
The Banbury and District Community Bus Project only has enough money to last until the end of August but will be able to continue for another year if the target can be raised.
The charity, better known as Banbury Play Bus, is pleading to parents, guardians and members of the public to get ‘on board’ to try to save them.
Project manager Michelle Pollard said: “While it does look pretty dire, we’re very positive as a project because we don’t want to lose it and we won’t go down without a fight.”
The award-winning Play Bus has provided a free space for kids to have fun for 23 years and typically works with more than 4,000 children a year
The iconic, red double-decker bus goes around north Oxfordshire three days a week giving parents and guardians a novel way to entertain their child while they get to interact with other adults.
After suffering a substantial cut in funding from Oxfordshire County Council, the trustees announced in March that the charity would be closing unless more funds could be found.
Several applications for grants have been unsuccessful so with monthly bills of up to £8,000 to pay, the organisers are turning to the community for help.
Michelle said: “It will be devastating for some families who we’ve been supporting for some time, it’s a great way to socialise, it gives children a space to play which so important for their development.
“They learn to socialise, share, play and families that come on feel safe on the bus and if they need to talk to myself or another parent, they can if they need support or just someone to talk to.”
We don’t want to lose it and we won’t go down without a fight.Banbury Play Bus project manager Michelle Pollard
At the session outside the Windmill Centre in Deddington on Thursday, parents were unanimously supportive of the scheme and would all be disappointed if it closed.
Nine Montgomery, whose 19-month-old son Charlie loves coming to the Play Bus, said it has helped them settle into the village since moving in December.
“It would be an absolute tragedy for it to go, it’s something local and where you can meet other mums and make Charlie can make new friends which might be friendships for life,” she said.
Jenny Byford is a nanny for a little girl called Thea and she said the bus helps to keep her busy as it can be lonely sometimes.
“It’s part of our daily routine, we come here every Thursday as it’s a great excuse to get out of the house and interact with other children and mums,” she said.
“We’d be truly bored if it wasn’t here as there’s nothing else to do in the village on a Thursday.”
Flo Smith has been bringing her children and now other kids as a child minder to the bus for 11 years.
“It’s a great resource and it would be a great shame if it closed, they’ve got everything you need and it’s how you meet most of your friends,” she said.
The team behind the bus is a small but dedicated one, with Michelle and another supervisor on the bus and an administrator overseeing it all.
The toys are regularly changed with the children consulted on which ones they prefer, and the team organise activities too.
“It’s not a job when you love it this much, I would be totally, totally lost if it goes, it’s been my life for 10 years and I can’t imagine not doing it,” Michelle said.
Cherwell District Council has offered specialist support and a rescue plan was approved last month, but hopes lie on the success of a public campaign to Save the Banbury Play Bus.
Donations will be the main way of generating income but other ways could be events, sponsorship, regular donors, advertising and competitions.
To donate online, visit www.gofundme.com/BanburyCommunityPlayBus, or send cheques to Tine Nicholas, Banbury and District Community Bus Project, East Street Centre, Calder Close, Banbury, Oxfordshire, OX16 3WR.
To get in touch with the team, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call Michelle on 01295 273027 or 07557 354763.