A "LIFELINE" transport service has announced a new bus route running from the town into the Peak District as it looks at ways to plug a huge gap in its funding.
Ashbourne Community Transport is facing cuts of around 40% of its funding next year and the chance of a complete cut the following year, prompting bosses to look at other ways to diversify and bring in profit.
The service, which supports elderly, isolated and vulnerable people with a subsidised transport service, currently receives a grant from Derbyshire County Council but the authority says its crippling budget constraints mean it may not be able to find funding for much longer.
In response to this threat, general manager Richard Mountford has set up a new "company" within the charity called The Ashbourne Little Bus Company.
Initially, the company is running a shuttle route from Ashbourne to Ilam on summer evenings, but the route is now extending to take in a loop which passes the Izaak Walton Hotel and Ashbourne Heights on the A515.
Mr Mountford said: "It's going to be a big challenge, and we basically need to start with a blank page and look at what we already do and what we can do.
"The easiest thing in the world would be to throw our arms in the air and turn into a blind panic, but as an organisation we've got a lot going for us. If we can turn these strengths into a profitable enterprise, we've got a better chance than many other organisations in our position of surviving.
"Our main hope in all of this is that our regular passengers are not affected.
"We're going to have to become a bus company, but with a difference.
"Instead of being a bus company driven by out-and-out profit, we will be a bus company driven by wanting to provide a service for our passengers and something that doesn't necessarily exist any more."
The community transport service, which is based in the Airfield Industrial Estate and is run by a board of local trustees, started running its new shuttle service last month but next month the new route will be added which Mr Mountford hopes will make it even more popular.
The route, which runs from Ashbourne past Callow Hall, the Okeover Arms, Blore Hall and stops in Ilam Park, runs from 5.30pm until 11pm each hour on Wednesday until Sunday and costs £2 one-way.
The service is also appealing for volunteers as it starts to look at ways to diversify and Mr Mountford says he would be keen to hear from anyone able to help. To find out more call 01335 300670.