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Transport Benevolent Fund - 2019
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June 12 2019
By Jessica Barton

Jessica writes for routeone, Group Tourism & Travel, and is the Editor of Coach Drivers Club News


Mighty oaks from little acorns grow

Things haven’t always been plain sailing for Baynes Travel. But being part of a tight-knit team and a close community, and doing what feels right, has been a winning formula

Running a coach operation wasn’t always the plan for Allendale-based Baynes Travel Director Nigel Baynes.

Baynes Travel operates a varied 20-strong fleet

But when his father, Dennis, passed away, Nigel “gave up the high life” in London and left his job at The Scout Association at the age of 21 to join his family’s transport firm in the late 1970s.

Says Nigel: “My father used to work for the people who owned the premises – Bridge End Mill – where Baynes Travel is now established.

“When they sold up, he took over the hen house with 8,000 chickens and my parents started a little bed and breakfast business, as well as selling the eggs.”

It was at this time that Dennis noticed a gap in the market for a taxi service in the village.

“He started ferrying people around in his car and then, for his retirement, he bought a Volkswagen Dormobile,” Nigel explains.

“This expanded his taxi business into a seven-seater option. Sadly, he was only a year into his retirement when he passed away.”

With Nigel’s mother left dealing with the businesses and caring for his younger brother, Nigel made the decision to return home from London to assist.  

Almost 40 years on, the chickens have long since retired along with the clapped-out Dormobile, and Bridge End Mill is now home to a 20-strong fleet, carrying passengers from across the region of Northumberland.

Building it up

For a while after Nigel’s return, business continued as usual, which also included taking over from Dennis as Allendale's “odd-jobber” – adding landscape gardening, Calor Gas sales, a milk round and a part-time firefighter to the village’s one-man taxi service.

Director Nigel Baynes joined the firm at the age of 21

However, as the taxi service business grew, the other jobs started to fall by the wayside.

“In 1980 we closed the bed and breakfast business at it was no longer viable,” says Nigel.

“In the meantime, I got a school run and then a lady who was doing local ambulance work asked if I would like her to pass my name onto the ambulance service.”

Baynes started to gain more school contracts and with the ambulance service work, it was able to buy more vehicles with higher seat capacities.

“The milk round went, the landscape gardening went, and the transport side became the main focus. From a very small acorn, it built up from there,” Nigel adds.

School contracts

Baynes Travel now operates a varied fleet from saloon cars through to a 57-seater coach, with school contracts still forming the majority of the firm’s work.

The hen house – the operator’s base in Allendale

Says Nigel: “We’re in a very rural location and when they closed a lot of the villages’ schools, the county council pledged that they would provide free transport for those children to the main school, which is in our village. It gave rise to lots of smaller school runs to serve people in remote areas, which we were able to take on.”

As well as the council contracts, Baynes also operates private school run contracts that it has grown over the last 20 years.

“A few parents who lived in one of the nearby villages said they had seven girls between them going to a private day school in Newcastle and that they were struggling with the transport,” explains Nigel.

“We said we would do it and over the years it has grown significantly. We now run between 30-40 schoolchildren every day, with some children on a more ad-hoc basis, so we have 60 individual contracts throughout the year.

“It’s nice for me to see something I started 20 years ago grow into a more profitable and essential service. Baynes has built up a reputation over the years for being the firm to go to if you want your children looked after and transported safely.”

Overcoming hurdles

While school contracts provide steady, year-round work, it does come with its challenges – something that Baynes has experienced more so in the last five years.

Baynes Travel has built up a solid reputation over the years

“For the past 25-30 years, we’ve relied heavily on school contracts,” says Nigel.

“They get reviewed every five years and we did very well for so many years, but on the last review, which was about four years ago, we lost 16 contracts all at once. It was because of the recession and other operators had put their prices down to get the work.

“However, it turned out that by pitching low they were getting the contracts, but they soon realised it wasn’t viable. We found that some operators were unable to afford to maintain the vehicles and they were coming to us to either hire ours or asking us to cover work.”

Consequently, by working with the county council, Baynes had a number of the contracts returned to it.  

Nigel adds: “Losing the school contracts was a bit of a blow, but things picked up a bit when we got some of them back. We just dug in and now we’re virtually back up to speed.”

Attracting tourists

Along with school contracts, Baynes also operates private hire work – with a particular focus on weddings – as well as running its own day trip programme.

The firm has an enviable location, with its close proximity to Hadrian’s Wall providing work during the summer.

“The area became really popular when the Wall was recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1987,” says Nigel.

“It gained a lot of press coverage and lots of businesses opened, such as cafés and holiday homes, bringing in more tourists, which still continues.

“School contracts still make up the majority of our work because its year-round work, but when it’s the six weeks’ summer holidays, we focus our efforts on this kind of private hire work more, along with our day tours and weddings.”

A problem shared

While school contracts can sometimes prove challenging, one area that isn’t a struggle is recruiting and retaining drivers with its rural location actually working in its favour, says Nigel, who does the majority of the driving along with full-time driver Dave Porter.

Vehicles are kept to a high standard – even those used on school runs

They are supported by 16 part-time drivers and Lisa and Margaret who work in the office.

Says Nigel: “It works well because we have quite a lot of retired professionals in the village who are quite happy to have a bit of extra money. The beauty of that is our school runs are largely covered by them.

“If they get a bit extra work other than the school runs they’re happy, but equally if they don’t they’re happy as well because they have the time to do other things. That as a business strategy works quite well for us.”

It is working as part of this team that Nigel says has made the last few challenging years manageable.

“It’s a lot of pressure keeping customers happy and keeping the fleet to a high standard. It’s demanding but when you are part of a team you can problem share. You’re not an island, and it’s really being part of that team that keeps you going,” he explains.

Community pillar

It’s also Nigel’s close to ties to the community that fuels his determination to make his local business succeed.

Not only has Nigel continued his role as a retained firefighter, but he is also President of the Allendale Lions – a group that organises a number of annual charity events in the village – not to mention his various roles in the local pantomime over the years.

“Allendale is a small but beautifully-formed community and it’s great to be a part of.”

Although running the business wasn’t Nigel’s occupation of choice, his philosophy in life is whatever comes your way, do it to the best of your abilities.

He says: “The opportunity presented itself and I have just done whatever I felt was the best thing do: Keep customers happy, keep the fleet in good nick and continue to keep high standards of service.

“The last years have been difficult but we will continue to look for new opportunities and make the best of what we have.”



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