‘Relief, tinged with sadness’: Gillies Coaches hangs up the keys

Gillies Coaches coach by the sea

Aylesham-based Gillies Coaches is to cease trading on 31 March after Director David Gillie announced his retirement.

It comes as Gillies marks its 90th anniversary, after the company was founded in 1932 as A.Gillie and Sons. David is the fourth and last generation of the Gillie family to operate coaches under the name and runs the business with wife Lyn.

In the early years the company was known for transporting miners to and from the unlikely Kent Coalfield, in particular from Aylesham to the Snowdown Colliery, as well as providing day trips for people who lived in the village.

In 1969 David’s father Stewart Gillie took over the business with his uncle Albert, expanding the business into transporting local factory workers, and undertaking educational work by the 1970s.

The business was dealt a blow by the closure of the Kent Coalfield collieries in the late 1980s following the miners’ strike, but continued to transport factory workers at that time. David joined in 1987, became a partner with his father in 1989, and by 1990 was expanding the business into more school runs, private hire work and into work with specialist language schools.

That marked a major turn in the business, according to David: “I was the one who really pushed forward on this other kind of work, and a lot of private hire,” he says. “We did some trips, and we would do tours for private hire groups around the country. We went abroad, covering Northern Europe all through the 1990s and into the 2000s, and from 2000 onwards we build a solid private hire base. A lot of local groups use our coaches, where we provide good service as you like to do, which kept attracting people to come back.”

David says he planned to retire sometime in the mid 2020s, but this was pushed forward by the impact of COVID-19, when the business lost its private hire and student work. “The last two years have been so difficult, and we just felt we needed a good few years’ more work to trade out of what position we’re in. We just didn’t want to spend that time trying to do that. Our financial situation is OK, so we were strong enough to close down.”

David’s three children have each forged their own careers, while there has been no opportunity to hand over the business to a new owner. However, David describes his retirement as a relief.

“The main feeling is relief, tinged with sadness,” he says. “I think we’re happy that we’re in the situation that we can actually do it. We were approached in autumn 2021 about selling our land and garage, which obviously helped with the decision.”

There are some aspects of the coach industry David says he will miss – in particular, the driving, and meeting new people day-to-day.