A NEW minibus has been rolled out to offer affordable transport to disabled and elderly Borders residents.

Community transport provider Gala Wheels recently unveiled the latest addition to its fleet, a 12-passenger vehicle, at Galashiels garage Scott Motors.

On hand to celebrate the launch was Scottish Minister for Older People and Equalities Christina McKelvie, local MSP Christine Grahame and benefactor Alan Stewart, as well as members of parent charity The Bridge and its team of volunteer drivers.

Gala Wheels was formed 10 years ago to provide affordable, accessible transport in the central Scottish Borders.

It runs a membership scheme offering social transport to individuals, care homes and disability organisations which is delivered by a team of volunteer drivers.

Currently, the group helps people to get to medical appointments, go on social outings, get to the shops, and to attend clubs and leisure activities. In the past year they have provided more than 8,885 passenger trips.

The new bus has been adapted for wheelchair use and offers a flexible layout, expanding the capacity of the organisation.

The service is subsidised by Scottish Borders Council, but Gala Wheels has to rely on donations and grants to purchase new vehicles.

Wheels were put in motion to fundraise for the new vehicle earlier this year and the funding target of £35,000 was reached in record time.

Support for the new bus came from organisations and individuals including Lottery Awards for All, The Robertson Trust, The Hayward Sanderson Trust, Scottish Borders Council, Gala Wheels service users, and the Stewart family who donated in memory of their father who passed away recently.

An additional endowment of £4,000 was also provided by the Stewart family, enabling the purchase of another smaller, second-hand mini-van, bringing the Gala Wheels fleet up to three fully wheelchair-adapted vehicles.

Morag Walker, executive officer for The Bridge said: “A huge thanks to all our funders and in particular to Alan Stewart and his family.

“We are extremely grateful to all our volunteer drivers without whom, we would not be able to deliver such an invaluable service to our local citizens.

“The support from Scott Motors providing a quick turn-around for all our vehicle repairs and maintenance has literally kept us on the road.

“This launch has clearly demonstrated the enormous strength in our local communities.”

Ms Grahame said: “I wanted the newly-appointed Minister for Older People to see for herself the excellent work going on in the Borders to keep older people connected and active.

“I am sure she left impressed by the goodwill of the volunteers, the generosity of the Stewart family and the wider Borders’ community in supplying the transport.

“I even had a hurl in 'Curly', named after the late Mr Stewart, the most recent addition, and very smart it is indeed with easy disabled and wheelchair access.”