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Joe Robbins to retire after 48 years

10 Nov 2015

A bus fitter from Fulwell, who has worked on hundreds of the region’s Stagecoach North East buses at the depot in Sunderland, is retiring after 48 years service.

65-year-old Joe Robins began his career in 1967 as an apprentice fitter with Sunderland Corporation Transport, which was then taken over by various organisations and finally by Stagecoach North East in 1994.

Joe has always worked in Sunderland at various depots across the city, including Hylton Road and Fulwell depots before moving to the Wheatsheaf depot where Stagecoach North East’s head office is based, but he hasn’t always worked ‘on the buses’.

He said: “When I first started working here, it was in ‘Central Repairs’ in the old depot and we worked on the vehicles for the Fire Brigade, Police and Ambulance, as well as gravediggers, public works, cemeteries, parks and seaside department, for the council. One day I was testing a Lambretta scooter for its MOT, the next day a 22-tonne Leyland, before I started repairing and servicing buses.

“I am also the last man at the depot who worked on Christmas Day. Years ago traffic commissioners said that fitters were needed in each depot on Christmas Day, so they used to have a bus on the north side for Hylton and one for the south side for Fulwell for the hospitals. As I was the only man who worked at the depot who didn’t have commitments, I used to volunteer to work both Christmas and New Year so my colleagues could have a family Christmas.

Joe has seen the role of fitter change over the years, with technology being the main development.

“There are a lot more electronics on vehicles now. When I first started my apprenticeship, we worked with joiners as the bus was all wood, as well as coach builders, electricians, welders, sheet metal workers etc.  An engine was purely mechanical but now there are lots of computers on board a bus and you need computers to set them up. The new apprentices joining Stagecoach today are very familiar with this technology, as I have been finding out as I train them.”

As a highly experienced fitter, Joe has trained a great deal of apprentices over the years, including new apprentice Jonathan Rowland.

20-year-old Jonathan from Peterlee has just joined Stagecoach’s four-year engineering apprenticeship scheme as a mechanical and electrical fitter, after spending 18 months working with a parts supplier for Nissan. Jonathan said: “This is a job that I have always wanted to do and something that I really enjoy, especially the problem solving and working things out, which I do a lot at home. It has been great working with Joe, even for just a short time, as he really knows his stuff, but I am looking forward to learning everything I can about the role and becoming an expert like him.”

Joe also trained Sunderland depot engineering supervisor David Mackel, who says he will be missed by the team. David said: “Joe will be missed by all of us, not only for his experience but also his character. Joe trained me throughout my apprenticeship 30 years ago and I still value his advice today. On a personal note, I will miss him and the friendship that he has given me.”

On his retirement, Jo said: “I have really enjoyed my time at Stagecoach working with the blokes. They have been a great team and I have made some good mates over the years. I will miss the guys but not getting up for work at 6am in the cold and dark! I am really looking forward to the peace and quiet and being able to get my Suzuki bike out of the garage and go out for a ride during the day. I love getting out on the road and off to places like Derbyshire, Dorset and Scotland.”

Gary Chisholm, Engineering Director, Stagecoach North East, said: “Joe is a valued member of the team and has been for many years. I've known him since I started with the company 15 years ago and during that time I can honestly say that he has always been someone who can be relied upon. People like Joe are always difficult to replace and he will be missed by me and the depot engineering management, as well as his colleagues. We wish him the very best for a long and happy retirement.”