PASSENGERS will soon be able to use the Hythe Ferry for the first time in five months.

Blue Funnel Ferries, which operates the service between Hythe Pier and Town Quay, has announced that the smaller of the two vessels will start operating on May 29.

But fundraisers are being urged to continue their campaign to help the service the economic impact of the Covid crisis.

Last year the ferry suffered a huge drop in passenger numbers a non-essential shops closed, a large number of people began working from home, and Saints fans were barred from watching games at St Mary's Stadium.

Trade increased in the summer but restrictions returned at the end of the year and the service has not run since before Christmas.

Blue Funnel Ferries was faced with the seemingly impossible task of funding the main vessel's annual refit when no money was coming in.

Hampshire County Council, Southampton City Council and New Forest District Council agreed to donate a total of £67,500. The refit is currently taking place but cash is also needed to finance the cost of relaunching the service.

A Crowdfunding campaign launched by Ashleigh Mutimear, of Butts Ash, Hythe, has raised almost half its £60,000 target.

Ferry boss Lee Rayment said: "The smaller ferry will restart operations on Saturday May 29 to support Bike Week, half term and pier events.

"This is not the end of the Save the Hythe Ferry Campaign.

"We still need your support through the Crowdfunding page to get the main boat completed, and place the company in a stable position. We are almost ready to go afloat but still need to change the engines and gearboxes."

Ashleigh and her supporters recently raised thousands of pounds for the ferry by walking up and down Hythe Pier for 24 hours.

In a message to the local community she said: "We are working extremely hard behind the scenes to get our campaign seen by the right people and raise further funds, but your efforts have been absolutely incredible and I thank you all immensely.

"Lee and the team are working tirelessly to get our ferry back in action."