Britain’s most famous fictional care leaver has given the thumbs up to child protection officer turned West of England Mayor, Dan Norris, for handing a free bus pass to every young person leaving care in his patch.
In a recorded message, Tracey Beaker, aka actor Dani Harmer from BBC TV’s The Story of Tracy Beaker, said: “This is a really important step.”
Mayor Norris, who has worked with hundreds of West of England young people in care, says this is an issue “close to his heart”.
Speaking at the start of Care Leavers Week, the Labour Mayor explained how all 18-to-21-year-old care leavers living in the West of England will be able to ride buses for free across 350-plus square miles - making it one of the largest schemes anywhere in the UK.
West of England Mayor Dan Norris says: “I know kids in care have a tough start. After Barnardo's spoke to me about the travel challenges facing young care leavers, I was determined to act. Many of these youngsters just can’t rely on a lift from parents to get to college, or head to that interview across town. That’s why I’m proud to introduce this free travel to give a helping hand.”
The scheme has been welcomed by children's charities, including Barnado’s, who have called it a 'lifeline' for care leavers in the region, as well as the Children’s Society, plus local organisations such as 1625 Independent People who work across the West.
Duncan Stanway, Assistant Director at Barnardo’s, says: “We are absolutely delighted that the Mayor of the West of England will be offering care leavers free bus travel. Since 2022, Barnardo's Transport for Freedom campaign has been calling for transport authorities to create bespoke schemes for care leavers who are struggling with the cost-of-living and do not have the 'bank of mum and dad' to top up their fare.
"This new scheme will be a lifeline for care leavers across the West of England, many of whom rely on public transport to access education and employment, or to visit friends and family. We hope that other local places look at this innovative support and roll-out their own schemes.”
Rebecca Ball, Programme Manager at West of England charity 1625 Independent People, added: “Travel costs can be a significant challenge for our young people when it comes to accessing and sustaining work or education, as well as connecting with interests and hobbies that they value highly. We would like to say a huge thank you for all involved in making this happen for care-experienced young people.’