In the latest UKCOA member interview, Peter Bradley converses with David Blake of Blakes Coaches of Tiverton
Just nestling to the south of the Exmoor National Park in Devon, but close to the Somerset border, is the village of East Anstey, the home of Blakes Coaches of Tiverton. Run by David and Janet Blake and their daughter Hannah, the company is very much a team effort by all those involved in its operation, and David is very proud of that.
David has always had a fascination with coaches, but joined a family business set up by his father and brother dealing in agricultural machinery. However, in 1998, three minibuses were acquired to run school contracts, and Blakes Coaches was born. Its first full sized coach arrived in 2000, but as David recalls: “I actually had no idea what to do with it at first.”
So, he took a step into the unknown, and placed some adverts in local papers for excursions and tours. The business started to develop from there.
A pivotal moment was the Foot and Mouth outbreak in 2001 which had a major impact on the agricultural business. This gave the opportunity for the coach element of the business to come into its own. It led, eventually, to the retirement of David’s father, and the splitting of the business, with David’s brother taking on the agricultural side, allowing David to concentrate on the coaching. David’s wife Janet joined in 2003 what was now Blakes Coaches Limited, and they developed a tour programme, day excursions and private hire work.
David describes the company, which now has 22 coaches and runs over 500 tours a year together with over 50 private hire holidays, as a “tight run family business with loyal staff”. He is especially proud of his daughter Hannah, who obtained her PSV licence at 21 in a new tri–axle Irizar coach, and is very much part of the company.
David and Janet are both Christians and very involved with church life. They do a lot of work for churches, including holidays and day excursions, and also the Cornish Federation of Male Voice Choirs. It is their faith that shapes the type of business they operate, which seems to be rewarded with both staff and customer loyalty. Those staff that David had to furlough during the pandemic he keeps in touch with on a weekly basis, which is impressive by any standards.
Turning to the issues of the day, David is very optimistic about the future: “We have been through a tough few months” he says, “but following the Prime Minister’s announcement on 22 February, the phones have started ringing and bookings are looking good for the second half of 2021.”
David and Janet have invested heavily in their fleet and all vehicles currently meet Euro VI standards, but David is keeping a very close eye on developments in engine technology as it evolves. PSVAR has not, up to now, directly affected Blakes as scheduled school or rail replacement duties do not feature heavily in its portfolio of work. “However,” he adds, “the UK Coach Operators Association meeting on PSVAR policy was like an epiphany. I will be keeping a close eye on developments, especially in light of the statement issued by the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee (DPTAC).”
His one concern is that any redesign of the coach that may result from the DPTAC recommendations must have sufficient luggage capacity for the week or fortnight duration tours that are a feature of their business.
David hopes that the pandemic may have taught us all that we need more time for ourselves. “There is more to life than running a coach company,” he muses, and will not be surprised if staff that have been furloughed across the coach industry re-examine their own priorities.