A COMMUNITY in mourning turned out to say their final goodbye to an 'absolutely unique' friend and 'celebrity' bus driver who died earlier this month.

Hundreds of people lined the streets of Bishop Auckland for the funeral of Stephen Foster, who lived near Darlington and had worked at Arriva North East.

The 54-year-old, who had worked in the region for almost three decades, unexpectedly died overnight on Wednesday, June 10.

He had previously been described as someone with an 'infectious personality,' whose main aim in life was to 'make everyone around him smile.'

The Northern Echo: The convoy departed West Auckland Picture: JIM SCOTTThe convoy departed West Auckland Picture: JIM SCOTT

But today, Bishop Auckland came to a halt as a procession of vintage buses and vintage cars followed Mr Foster's hearse to Wear Valley Crematorium.

Beginning at The Eden's bus garage in West Auckland scores of drivers in a mix of vintage vehicles were joined by Mr Foster's former colleagues, friends and family, as they set off to make their way through the town.

The route of the procession, which closely followed the route used by the Arriva X1 service, was chosen as a nod to Mr Foster's devotion to his job and to give his passengers a chance to say one last farewell.

The Northern Echo: Picture: SARAH CALDECOTTPicture: SARAH CALDECOTT

Close friend of Mr Foster, Stu Gray said: “We started at The Eden as it's the place Steve worked at and loved, we’re following the route that he would have drove along quite a few times in the past.

"We’re making sure we pass a few landmarks that everyone associates Steve with so they can say farewell to him."

The procession made its way through St Helens Auckland, Tindale Crescent, Cockton Hill, Newgate Street before coming to a short stop at Bishop Auckland bus station.

The Northern Echo: Crowds turned out at Bishop Auckland bus station Picture: JIM SCOTTCrowds turned out at Bishop Auckland bus station Picture: JIM SCOTT

There, further crowds applauded Mr Foster as the procession continued on towards the crematorium.

Admitting that Mr Foster did not like 'much fuss,' Mr Gray said the extraordinary turnout demonstrated how well-known his friend had become.

He said: "I wanted to arrange a decent send-off and people said well we’ll bring a bus, and we will try and pull it all together.

“Steve would have cringed at this to be honest but it is just lovely, someone like Steve really deserved a proper send off like this – we’re overwhelmed.

"We couldn’t ask for anything better.”

The Northern Echo: Picture: SARAH CALDECOTTPicture: SARAH CALDECOTT

Paying tribute, David Summerson, former director at The Eden, said: “Steve was one of the drivers, I knew him well. He was a good driver, a good person, he had a big personality.

"Everything that’s been said about him in the paper, I fully endorse. This just shows what people thought about him.”

To coincide with Mr Foster’s send off, Arriva drivers from the Darlington depot held a minutes’ silence.

Arriva North East told passengers: “The Darlington depot is observing one minute of silence at 11.30am to show respect for a much loved colleague Steve Foster, who recently passed away.”

  • The Northern Echo attended with the permission of Mr Foster's friends and family