Staff and parents have been left devastated as the wheels on the much-loved Banbury Play Bus charity have stopped for good.
Families joined the crestfallen members of staff at Banbury and District Community Play Bus for its final session in Deddington on Thursday (June 27)
On May 31, the board took the tough decision to shut down the charity at the end of June as they were running out of funds.
Former project co-ordinator Michelle Pollard said: “We couldn’t raise the money that we needed and the funds we had were dwindling.
“So a hard decision had to be made and we’re still coming to terms with it, it’s very sad.
“Me and the staff are gutted, it’s been our life’s work for some time and it’s difficult to see it come down to just a few boxes in a garage and an empty bus.”
The community raised £50,000 last year to save the Play Bus, and in March the team started running sessions in Castle Quay Shopping Centre.
Michelle admitted that everything seemed rosey at the time but speculative grant applications have failed and the large running costs meant it was not long before it was back to uncertain times and they had to close.
“It’s really hard for charities like ours to find funding – we’re a little charity in a big pond,” she said.
The team made the most of remaining weeks at their free play sessions for children across Cherwell district in a red double decker bus, ending with an emotional picnic in Deddington last week.
“Deddington was our longest-standing location, we’d been going there for 12-13 years, so it was really nice to see so many families come out and share a picnic and share memories,” Michelle said.
“That was nice to take that time to reflect – it was lovely.”
The team are proud of the work they have done over the last 24 years, giving children the space to learn and have fun while their parents or guardians can get support or even just a small bit of respite.
“When you look back and when you listen to parents say bye and thank you, you realise how many you have helped, you can’t even count how many families we’ve helped – too many – but at least we have helped them,” she said.
Michelle also wanted to thank everyone for the amount of support they have had, saying: “We’re so grateful that people gave us that extra year and the support from the community has been overwhelming.
“We had a huge mountain to climb, we got halfway up but we didn’t quite make it to the top, but at least we tried.”
Anyone in the market for a red double decker bus should contact Michelle via the Play Bus Facebook page.