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Community minibus stolen leaving Upper Bucklebury pupils with no school transport at start of new term

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Nearly 40 pupils from Upper Bucklebury will have to make their own arrangements for travelling to school at the beginning of term after the village's community minibus was stolen just before Christmas.

The theft was discovered on Tuesday, December 21, when one of the trustees of the bus was planning to take it to Long Lane Garage in Hermitage for a routine check.

The minibus, which is parked at the rear of the Cottage Inn pub by kind permission of landlord Gary Bush, was last seen on Sunday, December 19, after it had last been used to transport the school children on the last day of term before the Christmas holidays.

When Mr Bush noticed that it had been moved on the Monday, he assumed it had already been taken to the garage.

A spokesman for the Community Bus Trustees said: "We are very grateful to Gary for enabling us to use the car park where the minibus has always been sited, locked, immobilised and behind a five-bar gate.

"We have never had any issues of vandalism or theft before."

They went on to say that unfortunately there have been no sightings of the bus.

"We checked with local residents and asked those with video camera doorbells to check footage for any suspicious activity. Sadly the police had nothing to go on and so have closed the case."

The village started the service in 2016 when West Berkshire Council discontinued the school bus service from Upper Bucklebury to Kennet School.

The Bucklebury Community Bus is a not-for-profit registered charity run by a board of trustees, all of whom offer their time voluntarily and take no salary, expenses or other payments.

All but one of the trustees work full time and so managing the bus is done during the evenings or at weekends.

The only paid employee is the regular driver, and any absence is covered by volunteer drivers – usually a trustee or parent.

This was the second bus purchased by the charity. The first was bought with funds raised by local residents and parents of the school children.

This second bus – which was stolen – was purchased with the aid of a grant from the Community Solutions Fund, along with the proceeds of the sale of the original bus.

The trustees said: "The minibus had good insurance and we have been able to get a prompt insurance settlement, though for less than the bus cost and much less than the price of a comparable vehicle.

"We manage the bus funds sustainably and had planned to replace our bus in a couple of years’ time.

"Some of our contingency will therefore go towards the purchase of a new minibus, the cost of which has increased significantly in recent months due to the limited supply of second hand vehicles.

"We will also need to spend on additional security."

As pupils return to school this week, the trustees have been looking at options for home to school transport for the 39 pupils of Upper Bucklebury who currently use the service.

They have sent out requests to Kennet School and West Berkshire Council for the loan of a minibus "to help tide us over until we can secure a new vehicle".

The trustees said: "In the absence of any alternative, parents will need to take their children to and from school each day and will no doubt share the load between them.

"If any other schools or local businesses have a spare 17-seater minibus we could borrow for a short while it would be enormously helpful."

The board added: "Naturally we are all devastated by the theft of our bus when we have all worked so hard to run the service since September 2016 following the removal of the council run service.

"Since we set up, we are proud of our record of providing an uninterrupted service every school day regardless of sickness and Covid restrictions.

"We are hopeful that the bus can be replaced within the next few days; however the shortage of second-hand vehicles on the market will dictate the timescale."

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