A MINIBUS will be laid on to ferry beer lovers to rural pubs in a bid to help the businesses survive.

The 16-seater bus will take drinkers from Colchester town centre to pubs across the area from next month.

The Real Ale Runabouts will give 26 watering holes that are not well served by public transport a much-needed boost.

Colchester’s branch of the Campaign for Real Ale has compiled the series of monthly tours, with the first on May 12. The bus will stop for an hour at up to five pubs.

John Durrant, Colchester Camra spokesman, said: “A lot of these places are the last ones in their village.

“The pub is the hub of a community, yet they are struggling and have got a lot against them.

“We are trying to get people out there, and if we can get 16 people out there a night, somebody might say this is a good place and get the word around.”

The first tour will pick up and drop off outside Gala Bingo, in Osborne Street, Colchester, at 7pm, and take drinkers to the Donkey and Buskins and Layer Fox, both in Layer de la Haye, and the Hare and Hounds, in Layer Breton.

David Kearns, landlord of the Donkey and Buskins, said: “The rural pubs need to be supported a lot more than the town centre pubs. Every pub out there is fighting to survive.”

The scheme has been given £500 by charity, the Rural Community Council of Essex, which came up with the idea.

Colchester Community Voluntary Services, which runs Colchester Community Transport, will provide the bus.

Tracy Rudling, chief executive of the group, said: “This is a great example of Colchester Community Transport reaching out to engage with groups in the community.”

Places on the bus must be booked in advance, by calling John Tweed on 07914 208620, or e-mailing mplo@ colchestercamra.org.uk It costs £5 per person, except in August, when the fee will be £7 because the bus will be travelling further. Visit www.colchestercamra.org.uk for more details of the tours, which run until November 10.

l Colchester Community Transport also needs volunteer drivers for other schemes. If you can help, call 01206 216600.