North east bus passengers are finding themselves being driven to their destination by a new festive addition, as Santa and his little helpers take the driving seat for Stagecoach North East’s annual Christmas fundraising campaign.
Throughout December, bus drivers and office staff from Stagecoach North East’s depots in Stockton, Sunderland, South Shields, Hartlepool and Newcastle are swapping their uniforms for festive costumes in a bid to raise money for north east charities.
Employees at the Sunderland depot are raising money for St. Benedict’s Hospice and staff at Newcastle’s Walkergate depot have once again chosen Children North East and Tiny Lives. The team at Hartlepool are hoping to boost donations for Alice House Hospice and South Shields staff chose the popular CLIC Sargent and Chloe and Liam Together Forever Trust. Staff at the Teesside depot in Stockton selected Daisy Chain, a popular choice for the team.
At the Slatyford depot in Newcastle, staff are supporting the Chronicle’s Sunshine Fund and Northumbria Blood Bikes, and bringing seasonal cheer by handing out festive novelties to passengers. The team can be seen driving around Newcastle in festive wear throughout December, hopefully attracting plenty of attention and donations from passengers and the public.
Jon Middlemiss, 50, from Denton Burn in Newcastle, has been a bus driver for 31 years and is dedicated in his efforts to raising as much money as possible each year, which has helped the bus company to win a bronze at the UK Bus Awards in the Bus in the Community category recently.
Jon, who always dresses as Santa Claus throughout December on board his bus, said: “I got involved with the festive fundraising over 15 years ago and it’s really has become a passion for me. Every year we try and beat the previous year’s total and there is even some friendly competition with our colleagues from the Walkergate depot.
“Before the campaign even starts, passengers are asking me ‘when are you starting this year?’ and ‘how did you do last year?’” We always get great reactions from the public when we dress up, it brings a smile to their faces. They might be upset or grumpy with the weather, work or other things, but their faces change when they see you dressed up.”
From 17 to 23 December a Christmas Stagecoach charity bus will be located on Grainger Street to raise money and promote the good work of the charities. The merrily dressed bus features specially designed festive vinyl coverings and the interior decked out in seasonal style.
Looking after the Grotto are Slatyford staff members Jon Middlemiss, Adam Morris and Shaun Cree, with Jon dressed as Santa Claus and his little ‘elves’ helping to give away festive freebies and yuletide wishes all week. The Stagecoach staff are also giving up their weekends to make sure everyone gets the chance to see Santa Claus this Christmas.
Siobhan Sargeant, Charity Director at The Chronicle Sunshine Fund, said: "Here at The Chronicle Sunshine Fund our aim is to support Children with special and additional needs and disabilities right here in our North East. We provide pieces of equipment such as adapted beds and sleep systems, specialist wheelchairs and trikes, not funded elsewhere for local families to make a real difference. We believe every child should get the chance to see Santa at Christmas time, so we are thrilled to work with the team at Stagecoach on the Santa bus this festive season! Come down and join the team and help us make a difference this Christmas time!"
Alan Johnston, a part-time volunteer at Northumbria Blood Bikes who does two 12-hour shifts a week for the charity, said: “Fleet running costs are around £5,500 a month for fuel, maintenance, MOT etc and every penny goes straight back to the charity, so we can deliver urgent blood, X-rays and medical supplies where needed.
“I am amazed at the previous fundraising efforts from the team and a massive thanks to Stagecoach North East from Northumbria Blood Bikes for their support this year. Whatever the amount, the donation will make such a difference, not just to the charity, but to the general public in the region, and many lives will be saved as a result.”
At the Teesside depot, in addition to wearing festive costumes on bus routes across the region and hosting their own Santa’s Grotto bus in Stockton, the bus team took part in Daisy Chain’s ‘Wear it Festive’ campaign, donning seasonal sweaters to raise even more money for the fantastic charity, with a great selection of winter wonderland woollies on show.
Bus driver Brian Clifford, 59, from Yarm, said: “Every year the response from the public is really positive, it’s fantastic. Everyone loves Santa Claus and I think it has become a part of the build up to Christmas in the community. It’s just good fun and certainly gives a great atmosphere on the buses.”
Angela Dee, community fundraiser, said: “It’s fantastic to see such amazing support from Stagecoach with everyone getting into the festive spirit to raise funds. We are so very grateful to Stagecoach offering us their support and getting involved in fundraising for families affected by autism. We hope everyone had lots of fun for Wear It Festive and we’re sure the festivities will put a smile on passenger’s faces as well as here at Daisy Chain and in the community.”
Steve Walker, Managing Director at Stagecoach North East’s Slatyford depot, said: “This has become a popular feature on our buses over the years and the drivers and staff really enjoy spreading some seasonal cheer for our customers. We are always happy to support the fundraising activity of our team and hope that with the help of our passengers we can raise as much as possible for these much-loved charities.”