65-year-old Brian Sleightholme worked his way up the career ladder at the South Shields depot on Dean Road and has dedicated himself to the bus industry for over four decades.
South Shields-born Brian began his career as a conductor with Tyne and Wear Passenger Transport Executive (PTE) in October 1973 and after gaining his PCV license a year later, was able to assist as a spare driver when needed.
In 1975 Brian became a ‘one-man operation’, driving buses around South Shields without a conductor for the next 12 years, before becoming an inspector in 1987 and then a duty manager in 1988.
A promotion to assistant operations manager in 2000 saw Brian take his first step into senior management. After serving three years in this role, he quickly progressed to operations manager in 2003, where he spent the next 13 years managing the operations side of the business, which currently has a team of 165 drivers, 30 depot staff and 12 office staff. His role involved the smooth running of the bus services across South Shields on a daily basis, proactively leading the team to improve the quality of the services in the area.
During this time, Brian was responsible for the 100-year birthday celebrations at the depot, which resulted in a great response from the public at the popular event in 2005, and the installation of the impressive depot gates which marked the occasion.
He was also responsible for bringing over £1million of investment to the depot, which has seen a number of developments and improvements to the offices and facilities over the years.
Brian feels privileged to have served his time at South Shields. He said: “I didn’t really want to move around the region, as I was quite happy to stay at the South Shields depot, and when vacancies came up I applied and was successful. I have to say I have enjoyed all the roles that I have undertaken here, especially managing a team and seeing new people come in, become part of that team and progress up the ladder. I feel South Shields has a good group of people of which I am very proud.”
A career in the transport industry was not always on the cards for Brian, who left school at 15 with no qualifications. He finished school on a Friday and went into straight into the retail trade in a supermarket the following Monday, where he stayed until the age of 22 as an assistant manager.
With a young family to look after, Brian then joined PTE, a big employer in the area with good wages and overtime, which he enjoyed for many years. Over this time, Brian has seen many changes in the industry, as he explains.
“Years ago when I was a conductor, it was generally professional people that owned cars. That has now changed and most people now own a car, so traffic has increased and therefore it is sometimes much easier just to get the bus. I have seen an increase in demand for public transport, because as car ownership rises, congestion rises with it, and it is not always the case that you get from A to B quicker. I often get the bus with my wife when we go shopping in Newcastle as it saves so much time and effort in parking.
“There has also been a massive change for employees over the years - especially in technology - with ticket machines, smart cards, online payment and the recent launch of the live bus information service. Safety has also improved, as has environmental developments with cleaner and greener buses.
“If I had my life over again I would do exactly the same, and perhaps be even more ambitious, as there are so many marvellous opportunities with Stagecoach North East for young people now.”
Although Brian will very much miss his colleagues, he is looking forward to his well earned retirement. He added: “I am a keen gardener so I will be spending more time looking after the garden, as well as finishing those DIY jobs around the house.
I also plan to celebrate my 30th anniversary with my wife on a cruise later on in the year, and spend more time with my family, who are all based in South Shields.”
Robin Knight, Commercial Director, Stagecoach North East, said: “It has been my pleasure to work with Brian over the years and he is very much respected by his colleagues and peers for the sheer amount of knowledge he has brought to the role. He has given so much and will be very much missed by all at South Shields and the wider Stagecoach team. We wish him every success for a long and happy retirement.”