COVID stopped many families from joining together for festivities in 2020, but, hopefully, it’s all set to change this year, thanks to bosses of a taxi firm, which is offering free transport to pensioners on Christmas Day, as Hilary Scott discovered...

“I can’t bear the thought of an elderly person being home alone on Christmas Day. It’s heartbreaking,” said Keith Gibb of Barc Travel.

This is why the taxi firm, which has been serving the community of Peeblesshire for 14 years, is making sure pensioners are reunited with their families this Christmas.

The gesture is being extended to isolated pensioners within a six-mile radius of Peebles and Innerleithen. However, Keith says if people live a little further afield, such as Walkerburn or Broughton, he wouldn’t see them stuck.

Asked what made him offer this kind gesture, Keith said: “I am a great believer in looking after older people and looking out for them. I was just sitting thinking the other day how many families were affected by COVID. The loneliness that must’ve gone on in the last couple of years for old folk is a horrendous thought.”

The taxi boss hopes this service will give families the chance to make merry this festive season and enjoy a tipple.

“There’s always this question within families of who will drink and who won’t, as they may have to collect and drop off elderly family members. But, they won’t need to have that conversation this year. For us as a company, it’s easy for us to offer this service. Don’t get me wrong, we struggled through COVID, but because of Scottish Borders Council supporting transport, we got by, and we are now in a position to offer something back to the community,” said Keith.

Barc’s taxi service will run as usual, but a 16 seat minibus, which can take a wheelchair, is reserved for the elderly and vulnerable.

Keith explained: “We will have one driver, Edward Conway, who will be on call. He will be paid £25 per hour to run this service from 1pm until 6pm. Of course, if it needs to be extended a little later, so be it.

“There are no restrictions. If people have a walking aid or wheelchair, that’s no problem. They can even take a chaperone or carer; there’s plenty of seats to accommodate them.”

The company have advertised this early Christmas offer on social media. “The reaction has been amazing on the Innerleithen community site, and a lot of people have shared it. I was shocked at the number of people that responded.”

People can pre-book the service by calling Barc Travel on 01721 721212 and letting the company know where they need collecting and dropping off. The pandemic has created a silent epidemic of loneliness, and Keith and his team hope to change that this Christmas in the communities they serve.

Keith said: “It’s nice knowing that by providing this free service, we can reunite families. If I can do something to make a difference to just one person this Christmas, I’m happy.”

And with a slight twist on the sentimental ending to Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, to that I say.... ‘God Bless Barc, and everyone!’