Accessible Electric Vehicle Tackles Loneliness in Rural Community

A Charity in Leicestershire has employed an innovative Wheelchair-Accessible Electric Vehicle in a bid to tackle social isolation in rural communities

Lutterworth Community Transport, a service of Lutterworth Volunteer Centre, provide a volunteer-driven social car and community minibus scheme for people who are vulnerable, disabled, elderly or rurally isolated in the Lutterworth and Broughton Astley districts, a catchment area of around 5% of the total Leicestershire population.

The aim of our Charity is to prevent loneliness caused by rural and social isolation. Many people cannot access mainstream public transport due to lack of availability, or lack of ability to walk to a bus stop, and then inability to get on and off the vehicle. We offer a door-to-door service using a range of adapted vehicles to meet this need”, explains Graeme Thomson of Lutterworth Community Transport.

As a significant number of people served by the organisation suffer from mobility impairments, or depend on a wheelchair for their personal mobility, they often find it difficult to enter and exit a standard car or van. The charity identified the requirement for a versatile, accessible vehicle which could meet the needs of their disabled patrons, whilst also being environmentally friendly and economical to operate without the need for a 3.5 tonne C1-class license – and approached Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle specialists Brotherwood seeking a solution.

Mr Thomson continues, “We already have a WAV converted by Brotherwood that we are very happy with. Over time we have taken on more and more wheelchair transport and realised that we needed a second one to meet demand. This led us to reviewing how the new vehicle would be used in addition to the wheelchair option. Many of our clients are frail and find it difficult to climb into the back of an ordinary car, and we also transport more than one person at a time.

Brotherwood offered a Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle (WAV) conversion for the electric Vauxhall Vivaro – a medium-sized battery-electric vehicle with space for up to 5 passengers alongside a driver, plus a specially-engineered lowered floor section which enables a wheelchair user to travel without transferring out of their wheelchair. With a short rear access ramp and remote-controlled winch, volunteers can easily help wheelchair users into the vehicle without effort – and ensure that they travel safely with the support of a safety-tested 4-point restraint system, which holds the wheelchair securely in place for a stable ride. As an electric vehicle, the travelling experience is smooth and quiet – ideal for passengers with sensory processing issues.

Further adaptations were also sought to make access easier for ambulant passengers, with the addition of an automatic fold-out side step and electric turn-out front passenger seat ensuring that the transport service can cater for individuals of all abilities.

We chose to go for a larger vehicle, hence the Vauxhall Vivaro, which means that there is more room to manoeuvre once the passenger is in the vehicle. As the van is higher than a normal car, we then incorporated an automatic step to compensate. For those that still cannot access the rear but do not need to travel in a wheelchair we invested in the ‘BEV Turny’ chair at the front that enables a person to transfer from a walker or chair outside the vehicle and then be lifted inside.

We now have an incredibly versatile vehicle that caters for multiple needs that is used daily on our shuttle run to transport passengers with dementia to the Academy for Dementia Research and Education, also based in Lutterworth.

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