Honk for Hope! Day 2 in the week of a coach driver

As mentioned in yesterday’s blog, the UK’s coach industry has effectively been closed by the effects of Covid19. Other industries have had financial help from our government however even schemes designed to help tourism businesses have been denied to most coach operators across the country.

The majority of coach operators in the UK are small family businesses without the financial backing of the major groups. A lot of families have been doing this for many generations. Unfortunately many of them are staring down the barrel of going out of business without some financial help.

As an attempt to raise awareness of our plight a couple of companies came together to organise an event as a display and a plea for help. Over 90 coaches attended an event at Lightwater Valley (who provided their car park free of charge) last week. We were unable to attend however from pictures & videos I saw there was a wide array of operators from across the North East and Yorkshire.

There was a lot of press coverage of the event, of course. Unfortunately it didn’t seem to gain as much traction as we’d have collectively liked with those in charge. So plans were put together for a second event today. A lot of organisation went into a second, larger event in Blackpool, involving coach operators from across the North (generally). The plan included various groups coming together to merge into a longer convoy on the M6 and M55 motorways, to minimise disruption.

North East operators converge at Tebay truck stop this morning

The North East operators, who seemed to lead the organisation of the whole operation, set a meeting point for others at the truck stop in Tebay before heading down the M6 towards Blackpool in a convoy (where that wouldn’t cause too much disruption to traffic flow). The plan was to see more coaches joining as we travelled south.

It was great to see a strong display from the North East when we got to Tebay, with most of the front line operators sending at least one coach. There’s too many to mention but Coatham were happy to join in and we took one of our Yutong TC9’s. We left our depot near Guisborough just after 7am in order to get to Tebay for 9am. In total I think we had around 20 coaches in the NE convoy, including our leader from North East Coachways that was fully branded up with the ‘Honk for Hope’ slogan!

North East Coachways’ huge Van Hool Astromega that proudly led the convoy all the way to Blackpool – branded for ‘Honk for Hope’
Thanks to Tony Nicholson for the photo

As we travelled south on the M6 more and more coaches joined us from Southwaite Services and then more at an ad-hoc stop at Lancaster Services to get timings in check. We went from being towards the back of the North East clan to being in the middle of a longer trail of coaches! It really made for an awesome sight.

The North East convoy winds its way down the M6 this morning

As we reached the start of the M55 the perfect timings allowed the Yorkshire/Lancashire convoy to join us from the other direction as we all merged together to form a 190+ coach convoy into Blackpool. It truly was an awesome sight and great to be part of. The plan saw us travel the length of the M55, then past the Airport to the south end of the Promenade, driving the length of the prom to Gynn Square before returning towards the Airport and then parking up in the Yeadon Way car park helpfully provided by Blackpool Council free of charge for the event.

The amount of people out taking photos, waving and generally supporting our plight the length of the Promenade in Blackpool was truly amazing and great to see. Having been part of the NE group we never got to see the true length of the convoy behind us, so on our return trip down the Prom we spent more time waving to those still heading the opposite way than anything else. It was like we were all one massive family, just awesome to see the amount of operators and coaches that had turned out for this event, at their own cost, to help join the shout for funding.

I’m still waiting to hear a confirmed final number however I’ve heard figures suggested of 189 and 196 coaches joining us in Blackpool today.

One of the awesome drone pictures showing the amazing turnout from across the North!
Thanks to Jenna Rush for the photo

As mentioned above Blackpool Council provided Yeadon Way car park to host the post-drive gathering, as you can see it took some organisation to get everyone parked up. Shoutout to all the stewards working to help us all park up, most of them seem to have been supplied by local operators including Archway Travel, thank you!

It was certainly a huge challenge to fit nearly 200 coaches into a piece of land not designed for it, but the professionalism of all drivers involved made easy work of it.

As all of the coaches kept piling into the parking area it was amazing to see just how far some had travelled to come to this event. Shoutout to Grange Travel from Gravesend who had come the furthest that I’m aware of. Must have been a good 6 hour trip from Kent?!

Our Coatham Yutong parked up among coaches from across Yorkshire, Durham, Northumberland and Cumbria

I had a wander around to look at who had brought what and have a chat to a few drivers from different operators. Everyone had to be socially distant of course, given the Covid19 situation. It was great to see so many family operators there supporting the cause.

It was great to join everyone else at the bottom of the makeshift coach park to hear speeches by some of the organisers. There was a ‘guest’ speech by a local business owner and entertainer thanking us for backing the cause and acknowledging everything we do for hotels, theatres and other businesses in Blackpool in terms of bringing customers to them. Of course we stand in solidarity with them too.

All too quickly the whole event was over and everyone started to make their way home. It was certainly odd heading back up the M6 on our own on the way home.

My thanks to everyone involved in organising today’s rally. There’s too many to mention properly however I’ll specifically mention Jenna Rush (North East Coach Travel), Sam Archer (Archway Travel), Tony Nicholson (North East Coachways) and Matthew Forsyth (owner driver) for their organisation skills and basically ensuring the whole day ran perfectly.

It was the first time I’ve been involved in such an event and I honestly doubt I’ll see a better one. Just shows what happens when you leave people in charge who know exactly what they’re doing.

I’ve got a day off tomorrow but standby for the next instalment! Keep safe!

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