Retirement provided Carol Barton with the time to sort an issue that had been a thorn in her side during her long career as a nurse in Kerang – namely, the lack of transport options for people who are wheelchair bound.
Carol’s success in increasing those transport options has led to her being recognised as a COTA Senior Achiever, as part of the Victorian Senior of the Year Awards.
‘I used to work in nursing homes. They had a bus that could only take one wheelchair. It really upset me that each time I took one out, the others would say, “Why can’t I go?”’, Carol says.
Determined to change that situation, once she retired, Carol began a fundraising campaign that aimed to purchase a wheelchair-accessible community bus. When progress was slow, the idea for The Bus Stop Recycle Shop was born. ‘My husband and I went around everywhere to find somewhere we could use to open an op shop,’ Carol says. ‘It took us a little while to find a specific place, but then we found somewhere, and the owner gave us the first year rent free, which was magic.’
Assistance from family and friends was immediate and the shop now boasts about 40 volunteers and strong support from the community. ‘I consider myself the luckiest person in the world; they (the volunteers) have been incredible,’ Carol says. ‘We have got one shed full of winter clothes, one shed full of summer clothes, we’ve got a shed out the back that has all Christmas and Easter decorations, one out the front with extra stock and we’ve also got another shed out the front where we put excess clothing that is rags and items that we can’t use.’
Fund raising success
Since its opening, in May 2015, the shop has raised enough funds to purchase a community bus that has been modified with a hydraulic lift and steps to enable it to carry up to two wheelchairs and seven passengers. They have also bought a vehicle that can take five passengers and one wheelchair. Both are automatic and are available for use by the community. The shop has also contributed almost $80,000 in funds to other local community organisations, including a recent donation of $14,000 to a community group that purchased a trishaw; a bike that can take two elderly or mobility challenged passengers in the front, piloted by a rider at the rear.
Feedback from the transport users has been overwhelming. ‘They really enjoy it and appreciate it. It means they can get out a lot more which is great. They go to shows that are on in the club, they go to the different senior citizens clubs, they go to the Show, wherever they can go. People in the community who have family who are in a wheelchair and can’t get out very far, they are using to take them to doctor’s visits, family outings and other places,’ Carol says.
‘We wanted to get elderly people out into the world, and we have achieved that. It’s incredible.’
Gannawarra Shire CEO Tom O’Reilly, who supported Carol’s award nomination, says her initiative has made a difference to the lives of the most vulnerable members of the community.
‘The transport opportunities that are now available through Carol’s initiative helps reduce the possibility of social isolation that community members can be faced with when they require disability transport options in rural areas,’ Tom wrote in his letter of support.
Award winning work
Carol, who is 71, says winning the award gave her goose bumps but she wishes it could have been dedicated to all the volunteers who have assisted.
‘I am just so inspired by the help in the community that everyone gives. We just keep working at giving back to the community and I just love it.
‘It keeps me very, very busy but I don’t need downtime, I’m always thinking about what I can do next. I love working in this situation. I have found my niche.’