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Local Link a vital link

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STILL ON CALL Despite the lifting of severe restrictions many elderly people are still cocooning and are using the Local Link services for essential deliveries.  Pic: Michael McLaughlin

Castlebar
Oisín McGovern

Few organisations embodied the sense of community spirit during the lockdown quite like the Mayo Local Link bus service.
Having provided 140,000 journeys across the county in 2019, the non-profit bus company found itself at the frontline in helping those who were cocooning during the most severe weeks of lockdown.
With non-essential travel discouraged and public transport cut back to a skeletal service, Local Link has adapted to the times and began doing home deliveries to elderly and vulnerable clients.
During the lockdown all their hospital, disability and rural transport routes were amalgamated as delivery routes to cater for the demand.
In cooperation with other community organisations such as Achill Tourism and Meals on Wheels, the company has made 10,000 deliveries of shopping and medication from March until August.
While demand has declined with the easing of lockdown restrictions, Local Link Mayo manager Sarah Togher, who is based in Castlebar, says they are still carrying out deliveries across the county.
“At its peak we had 650 deliveries. At the moment we’re still doing between 300 and 400 a week,” Sarah told The Mayo News.
“There’s still elderly people that are cocooning who aren’t venturing out. There’s some that maybe decided to come out for a couple of weeks and then decided to stay at home because they were concerned at the way the [Covid-19] numbers were rising nationally.”
She adds: “A high profile of our Local Link passengers would be retired people who live alone who don’t drive anymore or maybe never drove.
“A lot of transport would’ve been maybe going to a community centre once a week to different activities. Those services are closed so they’re not travelling anymore, but they’re availing of the collect and delivery service instead.”
Under Level 2 of the government’s medium-term plan for living with Covid-19, non-essential use of public transport is discouraged, and buses can still only operate at 50 percent capacity.
Renal dialysis routes are currently running in line with public health guidelines, meaning some vulnerable customers must travel alone to their appointments.
“Prior to Covid you could’ve had four or five people sharing a journey whereas now because of the potential risk for most people it’s single transport,” Sarah says. “We have a few community services that haven’t resumed because there’s elderly day services and support groups that haven’t come back to pre-Covid arrangements.
“A lot of other services aren’t up and running in the normal way but they’ve been re-deployed to do the delivery services. You could have a service where you have a shopping list for ten people and only two passengers,” she says.
With extra support from the National Transport Authority, Local Link Mayo have been able to cater for the demand for regular transport even with reduced capacity. Sarah says providing adequate transport to adult disability and mental health services has been more challenging.
“We’re not able to facilitate as many people on transport services. That is a challenge for people who want to attend services like Rehab care or National Learning Network or some of the mental health services,” she says.
“[Day services] are doing their best to facilitate as many people as possible by giving people reduced days so as many people as possible can use the service. Those services have only resumed since the end of August.”
In providing affordable transport to rural areas, Local Link have been dealing people who have been left most isolated by the Covid-19 pandemic.
For Local Link Mayo – who won Age Friendly Transport Award last year - helping such clients has gone beyond dropping off groceries and medication.
As Sarah explains: “Where we know passengers that don’t have family members, we keep in touch with them to see are they supported by a local group. In some cases where people needed assistance from community policing or telephone support from the Alone helpline, we would’ve helped put those measure in place.”