A SPECIAL community bus service, for residents living in Alton’s Eastbrooke and Wooteys wards, proved its weight in gold on Sunday.

It took 63 passengers, who may otherwise have had to stay at home, enjoying the opportunity to visit the Yuletide Festival.

In a show of true Christmas spirit, Alton Labour Party chairman Paula Langley undertook MIDAS training to become a volunteer mini-bus driver so that she could operate a service throughout the day, connecting the eastern end of town with the town centre.

The training was sponsored by her employer, Bookers and Bolton Solicitors, with senior partner, Gideon Cristofoli, riding shotgun so that he could help passengers on and off the bus.

The vehicle was hired from Community First, with local East Hampshire district councillor Robert Saunders (Conservative) providing a grant to hire and pay for fuel, and members of the Labour party funding and delivering 1,000 leaflets and putting up posters around the route to flag up the service and the stopping points.

It was a flagship trial that could pave the way for the setting up of a new community bus service to serve the beleagured community living in the two eastern wards who have seen their bus service cut to the bare bones, making it almost impossible for some to shop and access services and events.

It is an initiative being investigated by the Eastbrooke and Wooteys Residents Association (EWRA) who, since June have been working with Community First East Hampshire to provide a community solution to the area’s bus problem.

Seeing the Yuletide service as a good indicator of needs, according to Paula, everyone who used Sunday’s special service stressed the need for a permanent service in the afternoons and at weekends “because they just can’t get into town!”

Of Sunday’s experience she said: “It really was one of the loveliest things I have ever done - seeing families going out together and experiencing one of our most popular events, coming home with bags of shopping and balloons, talking about what lovely things they had eaten and seen. It was the real spirit of Christmas!”