A "LIFELINE" bus service threatened with closure has been saved - and a new timetable released.

County council funding for Service 97, which connects residents from a number of East Dorset villages to their nearest towns, was slashed last year.

However, the route was rescued by local councils. As a result, charity Dorset Community Transport has been able to continue running its distinctive green buses along the stretch.

Dorset transport funding for the route, which connects Fordingbridge to Verwood and Ringwood via Alderholt and Cranborne, was withdrawn during the summer of 2017.

Tim Christian, general manager of Dorset Community Transport, said residents of villages had feared they would be cut off and left isolated.

However, a group of councils led by Alderholt Parish Council came together to fund the route, and a new timetable has been introduced.

“In a time of austerity cuts and ever-dwindling facilities in rural villages, bus routes into town like Service 97 are the only way many people can access basic necessities," Mr Christian said.

“Since Dorset Community Transport has been running this service for the past six years, we were keen to ensure continuity for residents, despite the lack of subsidy while local communities were formulating a long-term solution.

"This is a prime example of what can be achieved when neighbouring parishes come together and work in partnership with a local community transport operator to provide a much needed service.”

Cheryl Arnold, a Service 97 driver, said: “People need a reliable regular service - it’s their lifeline.

"We have many elderly or less mobile passengers who tell me that the Service 97 is their only route into town to buy their groceries or visit relatives.

"I don’t know what they would do if it were to end.”

Timetables for the service are now available from parish offices, or via the charity's website at ectcharity.co.uk

Dorset Community Transport was founded in 2011. It is based in Blandford and operates a wide range of community transport services, including transport for groups and local bus services.

The organisation is part of ECT Charity, a provider of local community transport across the UK.