We were tired of driving 40 miles to fill up so we bought our own gas pump – it saves us hundreds a year

VILLAGERS who were tired of driving miles to refuel their cars bought their own gas pumps to restore their village station.

Residents of Newcastleton in the Borders had to travel to Hawick and Carlisle, a 40-mile round trip before restoration.

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The old petrol station has been restored
Community Council President Greg Cuthbert

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Community Council President Greg Cuthbert
The gas station aimed to save hundreds of families when it reopened four years ago after a decade of closure

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The gas station aimed to save hundreds of families when it reopened four years ago after a decade of closureCredit: Barbara Elborn

Community council chairman Greg Cuthbert said the gas station has been a “godsend” since it was reintroduced four years ago.

He said: “Ten years ago we held a consultation on what the village needed and access to fuel became a clear need.

“Luckily the license on the old site was still there, so we were able to rebuild the new station.”

The station has a number of benefits for residents, including a penny from every liter of fuel that returns to the community for other projects.

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More importantly, it saves villagers money on fuel at a time when fuel prices have seen the biggest daily increase in 17 years.

Earlier this month the cost of petrol soared to over £2 a liter with a petrol pump in the Highlands selling unleaded at 208.7pa-litre and diesel at 213pa-litre

The Community Council now estimates that Newcastleton households are now saving £500 a year thanks to the fact that they no longer have to drive long distances just to fill up.

Due to the lack of public transportation, many families had three or four cars and many are self-employed and used vans and public transportation for their businesses, resulting in large fuel expenses.

Local buses have had their timetables reduced and despite the presence of a railway line along the village, there are no accessible rail options.

The small village is isolated only a few kilometers from the border between Scotland and England.

Being a traditional farming village, the farmers also faced problems in replenishing essential farming equipment like tractors and quad bikes,

Greg says the villagers describe themselves as a “landlocked” town, but they sometimes struggle with that mindset and miss things like community groups for children or health care like hospitals and dentists.

“The other day I drove to Borders General Hospital in Galashiels, which is an 80 mile round trip.

“Everyone has to make long commutes for things like hospital and even dentistry.

“You have to go to Galashiels if you need the orthodontist.

Barbara Elborn BEM, secretary and treasurer of the Newcastleton and District Community Trust, said the trust was currently working to create space to bring essential services locally, as technology allows patients to use NHS services “close to from my house “.

She said: ‘We now have the locally based ground technology resources to provide access to the NHS appointment service ‘near me’ so residents do not need to travel.

‘It’s too early to tell what impact the new facilities have had BUT having space to support, nurture, entertain, provide education and social inclusion and just have a good time together after Covid is proving very popular!’

Everyone has to make trips to the big cities, but for those who didn’t need to leave the village, refueling their cars meant making unnecessary trips.

Greg said: “People who didn’t have to leave the village, like old people, had to leave just to put gas in their cars because their cars were necessary for them to get around.”

Residents also work in Carlisle, Hawick and Galashiels, each 20 minutes and 40 minutes drive away respectively, so over the past four years the service station has ‘made a real difference’.

When the pandemic arrived, like many places, the village of Newcastleton shut down.

As everyone retreated indoors for lockdown, doctors, nurses and healthcare workers were still visiting people who needed to be seen.

Local healthcare workers travel to Northumberland and Cumberland to see patients.

Before the station, their journeys were even longer because they had to travel about thirty kilometers just to put gasoline in their car.

The coronavirus lockdown came just as the village was recovering from the worst flooding it had seen in 150 years.

Now, there are still a host of problems the villagers have to deal with, including rising fuel prices.

Chairman Greg said: “It is difficult to understand the cost of rural villages.

“The real financial impact will be felt during the winter, as the situation will worsen.

“We don’t have a gas main, our heating is oil-fired which will probably cost some families £100 a week.

“That’s the next thing we have to deal with – how to avoid energy poverty.”

In its fourth year of operation, the resort is cutting costs for many while bringing more visitors to the area.

Residents of nearby villages are now encouraged to come and use local amenities and help local businesses recover, which Greg says is a “huge benefit” of the resort.

The region has “never escaped” rural poverty or not in its lifetime, says Greg.

The new station is a way for the community to “do anything to help people with their pockets”.

But the community has other plans to improve its situation.

Currently they have an electric vehicle charging point which is said to be so popular that people are lining up to use it.

Greg, 58, says the village can easily fit three or four more places.

Barbara said they are now moving forward with their plans: “Living where we live is idyllic, but we lack choice, the community is working to change that.

“Having fuel locally was the start of delivering our community place plan, we have a long way to go to complete it, but with the support of our community, government, local authorities, corporate agencies and funders, we will achieve our goals.”

But there are still setbacks to this plan.

According to Greg, an upgrade is needed on the infrastructure of the village to be able to accommodate more electric vehicle charging points because the electricity inside the village is not good enough.

He said: “We have the space for them, but the problem is that there is no capacity within the village to manage them.

“We need an upgrade or we will fall behind.

“Most of the rural areas are the same, the electricity outside the villages is better but it’s not good enough inside.”

Like the rest of us, the villagers of Newcastleton are feeling the brunt of the fuel crisis.

But their gas station still provides the lifeline that many in this rural community need.

Barbara is optimistic about the future of their villages saying, “Who needs to travel when you have what you have? to overcome the challenges.

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“We come from a recovery stock so fighting spirit is in our nature, the energy crisis is a problem for all of us but we are working hard to overcome this where to live focusing on our place and making it better for everyone who lives and works here.

“We hope our achievements will inspire others to follow.

“Fuel was our passport to building the economic recovery and we need it to continue.

“We hope that by increasing services and choices, we can continue to grow and that increased demand will lead to better economic prospects, jobs and growth.”

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