Local bus operator Stagecoach North East has recognised employees that have demonstrated loyalty and dedication to the company in its annual long service awards.
This year, 88 long-serving staff were acknowledged after accumulating an impressive 2,520 years of service between them, and each one was recognised for their prolonged hard work and commitment over the years at a celebration dinner and awards ceremony at The Hilton Hotel, Gateshead.
Amongst the employees are bus drivers, engineers, administration and management staff based at Stagecoach North East’s depots across Teesside, Hartlepool, Newcastle, Sunderland and South Shields.
64-year-old Graham Bishop, a bus driver at the Teesside depot in Stockton, has achieved his 40 year milestone and is immensely proud.
He said: “I have enjoyed every minute of it. I have only had three jobs in my life, including this one, which is a real achievement. On the buses I like seeing all the different things going on in the world and when it’s a nice day, it makes it even nicer. I love driving, it’s a passion and the customers - especially when they are cheerful - it gives you a real buzz. It does get into your blood, this job and working with a decent crowd of teammates and managers, it’s like an extended family!”
Graham, from Park End in Middlesbrough, worked as a painter and decorator after he left school but had to give up the job due to health problems with the paint irritating his chest, so he became a landscape gardener in 1976. He said: “This was the year of the major heatwave and unfortunately, I was let go for a couple of months as there was literally no gardening work as nothing was growing! As I needed to work, I joined the bus firm, thinking it might only be temporary.”
He started off as a conductor as part of a dual crew, a role he carried out for seven years before one-man operations were introduced on the buses. He then went to driving school, got his license and became a driver, and after working at the bus depot in Middlesbrough, he moved to the Stockton depot 25 years ago where he has been ever since.
With around 250 employees at the depot, Graham is one of the longest serving members of the team with only two or three staff with a longer service record. He now works the split shift, starting at around 6.30am and working up until 6.30pm, with a two hour break in between but he remembers the days of walking home from his shift at almost midnight on Christmas Eve, before the company brought in early finishes.
Recalling how the role has changed, he said: “Buses have improved so much over the years, they are all semi automatic, and so much easier to drive. However, traffic is much busier and we have a set time to get from A to B, so it’s a challenge with all the cars on the road. But it is a challenge I still enjoy so I plan to stay driving until my mortgage is paid off then I can retire. My wife and I had a great night at the celebration awards with some lovely gifts so it was lovely to be recognised for the 40 years of service.”
Carole Grace, from Teesdale in Thornaby, has just celebrated her 30 years service, although she did work for the company previously, before leaving to raise a family.
After leaving school, she began as a cashier at Woolworths in Middlesbrough before moving to a better paid role at the local GEC factory, a job she loved. “However, the threat of closure meant I needed to look for more secure employment so I decided to join the bus company, where I worked until the birth of my son. I left to raise him until he went to school, then came back in 1986 and have worked here since then.
Like Graham, she also began as a conductress, a role she did for six months before becoming a bus driver on routes across Teesside, from Park End, Billingham and Coulby Newham.
She added: “As soon as I was 21 I went to driving school and learned to drive a bus. I am also qualified as a driving instructor, which I have done for the past 10 years, as and when it is required, for new drivers. I really enjoy the job and every day is different, even on the same route I don’t get bored. There are regular and new customers, always different faces, a variety of routes and traffic conditions. The team are great to work with and look after each other, with a bit of good natured banter thrown in! The awards evening was lovely, with a special presentation with flowers, and very much appreciated.”
Nine members of staff from the Stockton depot were honoured at the awards ceremony and boasted a total of 290 years between them. Each employee who received an award attended a Long Service Award presentation ceremony at The Hilton, in Gateshead.
Steve Walker, Managing Director, Stagecoach North East, commented: “The long service awards provide us with an opportunity to celebrate our loyal and committed members of staff. This is an impressive number of people reaching milestones from 20 to 50 years and we are proud that they have helped us to shape and develop the company during this time.
“That so many people choose to work for us for such long periods - in some cases their entire working life – is testament to the strong and supportive team at Stagecoach North East. I would like to extend my thanks to all our employees and especially those who have achieved such impressive service records in 2017.”