The Department for Transport has confirmed it is to fund a 12-month pilot scheme which will use buses to tackle loneliness in the West Midlands. Called Let’s Chat, it will offer people at risk from loneliness opportunities for social interaction.

Transport for West Midlands (TfWM) has secured £460,000 to set up the scheme. It comes after a successful trial in Walsall which saw 900 people given “meaningful contact” in six months.

The service will be accessed through a “focal point” of four dedicated buses in communities, while eight community transport minibuses will offer a door-to-door service for people where lack of transport prevents social contact. There will also be meeting spaces at five bus stations: Bilson, Coventry, Dudley, Walsall, and West Bromwich.

Let’s Chat is supported by Walsall Community Transport, Shencare and Community Transport (group) and is looking to work with other organisations across the West Midlands.

“I very much welcome this announcement from the Department for Transport,” says Mayor of the West Midlands and Chair of the West Midlands Combined Authority Andy Street. “We know that here in our region some 13% of our residents are suffering with loneliness, and we don’t want people to suffer in silence. So, it’s great news that funding is now in place to enable us to take forward projects like our Let’s Chat programme, that will help people in need to make new connections.

“Our transport network as a whole already plays an important role in alleviating isolation by taking people to social events and gatherings, and this new funding will allow us to add to that by having dedicated spaces set aside at bus stations and other venues being made available for drop in coffees and chat sessions.”

Adds Transport Minister Baroness Vere: “Loneliness affects millions of people across the UK. Transport can help us solve this problem by connecting us to people, places and experiences.

“Congratulations to the organisations that secured funding for their proposals. This is a great opportunity to improve future transport schemes and shape the national conversation on loneliness.

“We will continue to work closely with transport providers and community groups to build an inclusive and accessible transport network.”