An elderly people’s day centre in Farnham is on the hunt for a new minibus after a gang of thieves broke the steering column of one of its two vehicles.
The minibus, used to chauffeur elderly people to the Brightwells Gostrey Centre at the Memorial Hall in West Street, was broken into and vandalised for a second time in three months on Monday, September 4.
On both occasions the crooks have left empty handed after causing serious damage to the vehicle.
But this time, the attempted theft rendered the minibus immobile as the thieves tried to start the converted Ford Transit by removing the heavy duty steering wheel lock and panel.
The damage was discovered early on Tuesday, September 5 at the Memorial Hall when the centre’s drivers checked the vehicles before setting off to pick up their elderly clients to bring them to the centre.
Centre manager Jessica Wells said the minibuses are the “heartbeat” of the centre and described the incidents as "very upsetting".
The Brightwells Gostrey Centre, which provides support activities, companionship and community meals for the elderly, may have to consider fundraising to mitigate the cost of the attempted vehicle theft.
Mrs Wells has reported the latest break-in to Surrey Police, who she said decided not to come out, as well as the centre’s insurance company on Tuesday, September 5.
The insurers ruled that the vehicle needed to be moved as it had been compromised and the thieves might return.
Mrs Wells said: “It’s a public building so there are people in there right up to 10, 11pm. And you can see the minibuses from the building.
“When people leave, the building gets checked and then the car park gets checked as well. Everything was fine that evening, nothing untoward.
“And then we come in Tuesday morning and the bus drivers perform their safety check before we go out to pick up our clients. That’s when we discovered it and it’s an absolute nightmare to be completely honest.”
Brightwells Gostrey has been a pillar of the Farnham community for 40 years. Its minibuses are used five days a week and are crucial for picking up at least 30 guests a day to bring them to the centre for hot meals and companionship.
Mrs Wells said: “Our users are all elderly and don’t have any ways of coming in, and some live on their own and it’s extremely difficult.
“We’re having to send out the smaller bus on two trips as opposed to one which obviously then shortens the clients stay with us because they’re getting in later.”
As well as being in use all week, the buses are also leant out to other organisations at weekends. In addition, the buses do vital work of delivering 700 meals a month to the homes of centre clients.
Mrs Wells asks if there is anyone in the community who can loan a minibus, to get in touch.
She added: “It’s very upsetting. We are now a minibus down, so I am now waiting for the insurance company to tell me the costs.
“Our vehicles are the heartbeat of what we do. And with the current climate, we would not be able to replace them. It’s a long shot but if anyone might have a minibus that we can borrow whilst ours is off the road, that would be fantastic.”