Wednesday, October 20th, 2021

Hold very tight please for a trip back in time – go-coach celebrates its 10th birthday by offering free rides on buses from days gone by

THERE’S the old saying that you wait ages for a bus – and then three come along at once. But at the start of the recent bank holiday it was more like 53 coming along at once during a special Anniversary Gala & Bus Running Day organised by go-coach in Sevenoaks to celebrate the company’s 10th anniversary.

Some of  the buses on display at the go-coach base on the Vestry Estate in Otford dated back as far as the second world war while more modern versions included a new electric powered bus. People were invited to become passengers and ride on several of the vehicles free of charge on five different routes around Sevenoaks and beyond.

Austin Blackburn and Sevenoaks Town Mayor Roderick Hogarth cut the go-coach 10th anniversary cake.

 

The celebrations included the cutting of a special anniversary cake by Austin Blackburn, the managing director of go-coach, with the Sevenoaks Town Mayor Roderick Hogarth.

Austin said: “We only expected about 25 preserve buses to turn up so to get more than 50 was a nice surprise. These vehicles, combined with our own fleet, meant there were more than 100 buses on the day. Plus, we had more than 1,000 visitors.”

Austin is also a supporter of Breast Cancer Care and he donated all the money collected at the anniversary event and from the sale of programmes – more than £1,000 – to the charity

One of the biggest attractions on the day were two of Austin’s own buses which he originally had shipped over from Malta.

Austin said: “I have some good contacts in Malta so when they came up for sale I decided to buy them. The chassis from one of them dates back to 1943 when it was a Bedford truck that was used during the war. When it was later sold it underwent some modifications and was turned into the bus it is today.

One of the coaches from Malta pictured at Otford Pond.

“The other one actually started life in the UK but was shipped to Malta with about 50 others as part of an aid package to help the island get back on its feet after the war.

“They are just big toys for me. We can’t use them for hire and reward, but they are popular for taking to shows and events as they help attract a lot of attention.”

Austin’s own personal collection also includes an original black London taxi, which his father had from new, and a lovely old red double decker bus, both of which can be hired out for special events such as weddings. The double decker is also used for transporting people around Sevenoaks town in the summer.

Austin’s background was originally working as an engineer in London where he started a company called The Bus Doctor specialising in repairing and servicing buses and coaches. And today you’ll still find him getting his hands dirty working with his employees on vehicles in his workshop facility on the Vestry Estate.

So how did he end up running a bus company? Austin explains: “I originally had plans to run a coach company. When they announced the introduction of the low emissions legislation I thought there was an opportunity to run clean coaches in to London as I knew many of the existing coach companies would not be able to do this as their vehicles were not up to the new legislation.

“I started off with one coach based in Bowens Yard, Knockholt, but in reality it didn’t quite work out as I found coach travel quite difficult to break into as there is quite a lot of tradition and people tended to use companies they knew. However, I managed to get a works contract with Fort Halstead and this took us into the bus market.

“We soon outgrew our Knockholt premises and in 2011 moved to the Vestry Estate which was a big investment and a massive move for us, but it did allow us to expand. We have ended up being a bus company with a coach name.”

As the company continued to grow so did Austin’s need for more premises and go-coach took over another site on Polhill and then Swanley Bus Garage before taking on even more premises on the Vestry Estate.

During the last 10 years, go-coach has gone from being a single coach company to running 50 buses on 45 routes which helps generate a £3.5m turnover. Although the company is based in Sevenoaks, its operating area includes Dartford, Swanley, Edenbridge and Tunbridge Wells.

Austin believes his challenge over the next 10 years is to make sure his company survives because while his costs have risen in the last decade, the income the company receives from schemes such as Kent County Council’s ‘Freedom Pass’ for school pupils has not changed since he started his business.

There were plenty of small buses on offer as well!

He said: “I think if I was advising my younger self about whether to go into the transport business I would say ‘don’t do it’. But we are a very local company and I am very proud of what we have achieved in the last 10 years.”

PHOTOS BY: Lewis Durham and Frank Baldwin

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