IT's something lots of us probably don't think about, but behind the scenes there are thousands of people keeping the region's buses moving.

From bus drivers and cleaners to the engineers and supervisors, a network of people are responsible for ensuring people get from A to B, no matter what.

And for those working in one County Durham town, they are no exception as a team of almost 200 serve dozens of communities, villages and cities every single day.

Read more: Meet the Consett Go North East bus driver retiring after 50 years

In a first look, The Northern Echo has gone behind the scenes at Go North East's Consett depot to see what the public doesn't get to - and what it's like as a worker.

Take a look below

The Northern Echo:

Martijn Gilbert, Managing Director, left, with Stephen King, Commercial Director, right Pictures: JIM SCOTT

Tucked away at the end of the rather unsuspecting Hownsgill Industrial Estate, the 11,500 sq ft depot is home to around 80 buses and a team of 185.

Around 170 of those are made up of drivers, while the remainder are the engineers, supervisors and support staff also needed to keep things running.

Martijn Gilbert, Managing Director at Go North East, explains how the team in Consett make up about ten percent of the company's 2,000-strong workforce and cover services right across the region.

"This is one of seven depots across the company - from here we serve not just the local area, but the radial routes that go out to Newcastle, Durham and Sunderland."

The Northern Echo:

The majority of drivers start their shift by clocking on at the depot, where they collect their duty sheets before carrying out an inspection of their bus

The Northern Echo:

Marco Montanarini, leading driver and supervisor at Consett Depot, helps drivers sign on for work 

Drivers begin their shift by clocking on at the depot to collect their duty sheets showing their routes, buses and stops for the day, before carrying out a multi-point check and starting the service.

At Consett, full time drivers are expected to cover shifts of around 39 hours in total, varying in time with the shortest shift just six hours - and the longest at ten-and-a-half.

The company has depots across the region including in Chester-le-Street, Washington, Sunderland's Deptford and Gateshead's Riverside.

Read more: Go North East extends Newcastle to Durham 21 route to Brandon

But in Consett it's an almost 24/7 operation, with the first bus scheduled to be ready and out of the depot at 4.30am, while the last service is expected back in at 1.30am.

The Northern Echo:

The Northern Echo's Jim Scott got behind the wheel to give driving a double-decker bus a go 

Martijn explains that drivers are expected to learn around six routes per rota, with training taking anywhere between four and six weeks to get behind the wheel.

The Northern Echo:

As many as 80 buses will be parked up at the depot on a night, with just a handful of spares kept in the day time 

The Northern Echo:

Drivers are required to carry out multi-point inspections and record any faults on a 'Defect Card' for investigation

The Northern Echo:

The depot is home to a fleet of recently-built buses to serve its 'X-Lines' services to the Metrocentre and Newcastle

The depot is the newest in the company, and is understood to be the newest bus depot in the North East, replacing a long-standing site five miles along the road.

A bittersweet moment for the town of Stanley, Mr Gilbert said everyone moved with the company from the old Chester Road depot which had outserved its purpose after a hundred years. 

Read more: Bus depot staff in Consett make hilarious video with a serious message

He said: "This site opened in 2019 and it replaced a far older depot in nearby Stanley - that depot was purpose-built but not suitable for modern day vehicles."

But with the arrival of a new depot came the opportunity to install a range of new features and a chance to remove some dated ones too. 

The Northern Echo:

Buses are also checked for their brakes on an aptly-named 'Brake Tester' which allows wheels to turn at high speed without travelling anywhere

The Northern Echo:

Buses are brought into the depot for a vehicle safety check every four to six weeks

Gone are the days of trailing pipes and even maintenance pits, the depot is believed to have some of the most advanced technology in the industry, capable of serving up to five buses at a time. 

The engineering team are responsible for the maintenance of its own fleet, with almost all work - including replacement engines and gearboxes - able to be undertaken there.

They are headed by Dave Flett, engineering supervisor, who admits that he could not keep away after leaving in 1997 and returning in 2007.

He said: "I know everything that's going on - I keep the work's mobile so if anyone has any problems, we are here - it's a good family here."

The Northern Echo:

Dave Flett, engineering supervisor and has been with Go North East since 2007, is responsible for the maintenance of the buses at Consett 

The Northern Echo:

The depot can service up to five buses at a time

Like other depots, the team in Consett share a premises opposite the bus station, where drivers take their rest breaks and the management team monitor operations.

Jeff Hodgson, Operations Manager for the Consett depot, said that despite reports of a high turnover of staff, he had generally seen a lot of workers stay and many "come back."

He said: "I came here for six months and then stayed for 31 years - it is a stable environment.

"We do get a lot of people that stay, it does get better - and there is a family feel here. People look after each other on the buses."

The Northern Echo:

A separate office and driver rest area is located at Consett Bus Station, which is an offshoot from the depot

The Northern Echo:

Both Jeff Hodgson, operations manager, left, with Mike McGrady, detailer - who allocates shifts, play an important role in keeping the operation going

And one driver may be able to vouch for that after spending five decades behind the wheel, with the majority of that time with Go North East.

Harry Bunney, who will retire at the age of 73 in the New Year, worked out of the company's Stanley depot as it was then known as Venture Transport.

Read more: Meet the Consett Go North East bus driver retiring after 50 years

Harry, who said the job is "totally different" now than it was back then, said he believed the staff at the County Durham depot made it the "best in the world."

The Northern Echo:

Harry Bunney will retire in the new year after fifty years of driving, with the majority of that time at Go North East 

At the end of their shift, drivers are expected to take their bus through the depot's very own "bus wash" - big enough to wash double-decker buses from top to bottom. 

The Northern Echo:

The bus wash is used every single night as the depot has a rule to have every single bus cleaned on a night ready for the next morning 

The Northern Echo:

The depot is located on the Hownsgill Industrial Estate 

Martijn said: "The average person on the street obviously sees the bus running but there’s so much more than goes into delivering that bus service.

"We have seen today, where colleagues clock on for their duties, the supervisory team – allocation of duties, buses, managing holiday leave and alike, and also the engineering operation that keeps the vehicles safe and reliable."

Paying tribute to the efforts of the workforce throughout the pandemic and now, Martijn said the company remained "super proud" of its colleagues, long-term and new.

He said that buses continued to play a huge role in the community, not just in terms of connectivity but also as a big employer in the region.

In more recent years, Go North East has gone onto become known as the "biggest" bus company in the region with more than 700 buses covering routes across County Durham, Tyne & Wear, Teesside and more recently, parts of North Yorkshire. 

But the company has not been without criticism as it has faced potential calls for industrial action after drivers rejected a pay rise offer of 3.5 percent earlier this year. 

Read more: Go North East drivers in County Durham and Tyne & Wear could end up on strike

Responding to that this week, Martijn said that pay talks are "ongoing," but said when they are resolved the pay and conditions at the company will be "even better."

He added: "Considerable improvements have been made to new starter rates, people now start at £10 an hour and there are additional benefits for overtime working, then there are length of service benefits."

The company currently has a number of driver and engineer vacancies at its depot in Consett, as well as other locations in the North East.

For more information or to apply via the Go North East website - click here


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