Kirsty Lawrence's picture

Newcastle 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 Slatyford depot in Newcastle are swapping their uniforms for festive costumes in a bid to raise money for the Chronicle’s Sunshine Fund and Northumbria Blood Bikes.

The Chronicle Sunshine Fund is a North East based charity enhancing the lives of disabled children and their families in the region by providing equipment to suit their specialist needs. The North East has some of the highest numbers of children registered as disabled in the UK, meaning thousands of children desperately need support.

Northumbria Blood Bikes is a charitable organisation currently being established by local volunteers to deliver essential blood and other urgent medical supplies out of hours between hospitals and healthcare sites in North East England and is part of the national Blood Bikes charity.

To bring seasonal cheer, staff will be handing out festive novelties to passengers, hoping to raise even more funds for the popular local charities and beat last year’s total of £6,660. 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.

From 17 to 23 December, 10am until 5pm, 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.

Jon Middlemiss, 50, from Denton Burn, 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.”

Duty manager and bus driver Adam Morris, 31, from Kenton Bar, has worked at Stagecoach’s Slatyford for 12 years and has a been a volunteer for Northumbria Blood Bikes since 2014.

He said: “After losing my Mum to lung cancer when I was young, I wanted to do something positive to help others. I’m a bit of a wuss when it comes to needles and giving blood, so this was a way to give back.”

When not driving a bus or in his role as a duty manager, Adam works a 12-hour shift each week, either as a controller locating blood bikes and cars and directing to jobs via GPS or as a driver/rider, delivering blood for air ambulances, hospitals and GPs all over the region.

He added: “I have always taken part in the annual Christmas fundraising campaign at the depot, emptying buckets and counting cash, but this year I decided to get more involved and I’m really looking forward to helping with the festive giveaways on our Stagecoach Santa bus.”

Bus driver Shaun Cree, 50, from West Denton, who has worked at the depot for eight years and taken part in the campaign since he started, said: “Every year the response from the public is really positive, it’s fantastic. 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. I really want to say a big thank you to everyone who supports us, as it is really their generosity which makes the difference.”

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 on Grainger Street from 17th - 23rd December and help us make a difference this Christmas time!"

Lauren Thompson, Fundraiser at The Chronicle Sunshine Fund, said: "It’s been brilliant to work with Jon and the team at Stagecoach, it’s amazing to see how much hard work has gone into supporting local charities. Their support will genuinely make a huge difference to the lives of our children and their families. With applications to The Chronicle Sunshine Fund increasing, we need the generosity for the North east public now more than ever!"

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.”

Laura Smith, Operations Manager 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 some much-needed funds for Northumbria Blood Bikes and the Chronicle Sunshine Fund. We encourage everyone to come down to see the Stagecoach Santa’s Grotto, get in the seasonal spirit and help make a difference.”

Staff at Stagecoach North East’s Walkergate bus depot are supporting Children North East and Tiny Lives this year.

For further information about Stagecoach North East please visit www.stagecoachbus.com