On the buses

Pat Hughes at the wheel of the community bus

[Editor’s note: This Opinion article from Pat Hughes follows on from her comment on last week’s lead story “Vaccinations – more choice” which then attracted more comments, and she also responds to the most recent comments]

On January 18, just before Etchingham went live as the (mass) vaccination centre for the rural Rother area, an enquiry was made of me in respect of my having announced that RDCT was ready to take people there. I was asked whether I was suggesting that we had the capability to lift hundreds of people over the coming weeks, perhaps in bad weather, and whether we had ascertained that people would be happy to go with us.

Well, at the end of the first phase – as the last groups went for their first vaccination on Wednesday and the rest of this week will be a mopping up process, eg for the housebound. [Editor’s note. And the NHS will decide whether they bring the housebound to the centre, or take the vaccinations to the housebound – and practice has varied from place to place] – I am delighted to have been completely vindicated.

In the 22 days of this first phase RDCT has taken 256 people for vaccination in 63 trips (an average of four people per trip), coped with some pretty adverse weather conditions, relentless rain and strong winds predominantly, and given people a really good time out.

Yes, it was a scramble at the start, and all the parts of the operation had to get to fit together, but communications and ways of working were established, glitches were overcome, and neither snow or Sunday affected the ability to deliver. And I think that everyone who has been to Etchingham, whether under their own steam or with us, has been hugely impressed with what has been done there. The collaboration has been key to it.

Could Rye have done better?

A vaccination centre for Rye on its own could not have been anything like as efficient an operation and achieving that with the top four at risk groups done by Monday February 15 would probably not have been possible. I have seen a complaint about the cost of the transport to Etchingham, but if you choose not to go with RDCT (in which case there would have been no charge) the cost of the journey was entirely of your own making.

RDCT is not charging the NHS for this transport, and we have been delighted with the support from the community with donations received from individuals, organisations and companies. As far as I and RDCT are concerned, we must do everything in our power to achieve the vaccination of our community. At the start of this I told our driving team that in our 27th year of operations this was both the biggest and the most important transport job we had ever undertaken, and that we would get it done. And so on to the next phase…

I would like to comment on suggestions that either the New Romney vaccination centre or Laycock’s in Ore can be easily reached by bus. I think that if you believe that, you may not have travelled on the 102 service for some time as, for most of the day, it does not go along New Romney High Street, but comes from Littlestone up Station Road before turning back onto the A259 towards Hythe.

The journey from Rye to the station at New Romney therefore takes about 50 minutes, and then there is probably a 5-10 minute walk to the vaccination centre – and going on the 100/101 to Ore takes 30-35 minutes depending on which bus you are on.

Image Credits: Kenneth Bird .


  1. Thank you very much for providing your service to ferry people to Etchingham free of charge. I have not had to use you but know many people who have and they have all been very impressed.
    Excellent job and a wonderful service. Well done to you all.

  2. As one of the CEV group who has been shielding, I had my first vaccination last week and as somebody with no transport of my own, nor the means to afford a taxi to and from Etchingham, I was lucky enough to be taken there and back by RDCT. Pat organised things brilliantly, our driver Nicky (hope I spelled that right) was lovely, and the journey was very pleasant with all Covid precautions adhered to. We are so very fortunate to have such a wonderful service in Rye, and I am extremely grateful to Pat and her team of volunteers.

  3. I have replied to Mr Bonham to clarify the situation with his vaccination at the RMC on Saturday 13th – this clinic is part of the ‘mop up’ and is only operating on that Saturday morning, RDCT are taking several people there. Those in the next eligible group are currently being contacted with appointments at Etchingham which start on Tuesday 16th, we already have several bookings in for then.

  4. Well done Pat and team. What a huge part you have played in helping to protect our community and make it less stressful for those making their way to the ‘local’ vaccine hub.

    • Pat,

      I sincerely hope that the negative response of some, will not have any effect on the sterling job that your team is doing.
      My wife has been jabbed, after using your transport, and it would certainly have been more difficult for her to reach Etchingham for her vaccination without your service.

      Pat Barrett

  5. Nobody disputes that the Community bus service, has done a good job getting people to Etchingham, it would have been interesting if Rye didn’t have this service,whether they would have given Rye a Vaccination centre, or what would have been the alternative, for our vunerable senior citizens in this town.

  6. Brilliant Pat, I have the greatest admiration for what you and your team are doing, we are so lucky to have you. Keep up the good work.

  7. Thank you and the volunteers for all your hard work, and at some risk to yourselves. It has helped to keep us all safe, whether we needed your help to get to Etchingham or not.
    Andy Bye

  8. 2 points Mr Tolhurst: firstly Rye (and the surrounding villages) does have RDCT, now in its 27th year of operation, precisely to help fill gaps in local transport provision, whether that is taking people to day centres and clubs, offering home to school transport and (particularly the primary schools) transport for off site and/or inter school activities, transport (Dial-a-Ride) for the vulnerable and elderly and those with mobility issues going for medical appointments, shopping, hair do’s (pre-Covid), etc etc, and taking groups for a huge range of events and activities from theatre trips to funerals – this transport for vaccination is exactly the sort of thing we do and totally within our remit. Secondly, Battle’s community transport (Battle Area Community Transport), only operated a limited service last September-October and nothing since then (first ceased operations 16th March last year), has not provided any transport help for those in its area which includes villages around Battle as well as Sedlescombe and Westfield, and the problems that this has caused has not resulted in Battle having its own vaccination centre. What wasn’t made clear when Etchingham was first designated was that this was to be rural Rother’s mass vaccination centre (yes, Mr Tolhurst, Etchingham IS in Rother), looking to achieve 500 vaccinations a day, with all the requirements for sufficient space to operate (and extra space for proper distancing), as much parking as possible and access. I myself was one of those who argued for the use of the Hub on Rye Hill, but once I’d seen what was being done at Etchingham I realised that no site in Rye could offer everything that was needed. And of course, wherever the vaccination centre is, there are still people who need to be transported there and back – Rye’s surgeries serve people in Rye Harbour, Winchelsea Town and Beach, Icklesham, Udimore, Peasmarsh, Iden, Playden and Camber – we took several people to the ‘mop up’ clinic at RMC on Saturday.

  9. Dear Pat,
    Don’t ever feel you or your colleagues need to justify yourselves. The service you previde is excellent and so suited to Rye. We are lucky to have such a flexible service and such wonderful volunteers to run it. I suspect few people realise the role you personally play to ensure the success of the service. What on earth would Rye do without Pat the Bus?
    If I were king I would knight you.
    Just one other point, this service is voluntary and runs on donations, so, come on readers, put your hand in your pocket and support their work.
    Thanks Pat, Barry and everyone involved.
    Chris F.

  10. As an 80 year old went to Etchingham for my jab.
    It was a great outing much enjoyed by all 6 allowed on board. Firstly going all round Rye and Rye Harbour for pick ups and then cross country to Etchingham. For us all it was a first outing since lockdown last year. It was amazingly goodhumoured and efficient. The driver even lent me his umbrella to venture out into the pouring rain to get into the centre.
    I am so thankful for such an organisation being run so well. Thank you Pat and all your workers.


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