The history of the Friends of DalesBus
Early in Spring 1996, several regular users of DalesBus services became concerned about the reductions in our summer bus services, most notably the loss of the popular 803 between West Yorkshire and Swaledale. Two of the regular users of this service, Howard Handley and Duncan Ward from Leeds, organised an informal petition asking bus passengers to sign a letter of protest to the bus operator Arriva and the National Park. One of the people approached on the bus was former National Park senior officer Colin Speakman, who urged Howard and Duncan to take things a step further and form a small pressure group to seek change.
A couple of weeks later, Howard Duncan and Colin met with three of four others in the Malt Shovel pub in Burley-in-Wharfedale (now closed) and set up what was originally known as the Yorkshire Dales Public Transport Users Group. A small sub-committee was formed from those present. A constitution was drawn up and members rapidly recruited. Howard became the first Chairman, Duncan the Secretary and Eric Mizzen the Treasurer.
Soon a newsletter “Wheels in Motion” edited by Duncan was produced, and a key early activity was the organising of guided walks in order to boost bus passenger numbers, especially during the winter months and help publicise the services. This also helped encourage an awareness of the value of the bus service in undertaking point to point or linear walks. Equally letters and representations to both North Yorkshire County Council and the National Park Authority produced positive results and for a time Dalesbus services seemed safe.
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But by the early 2000s new austerity and budget cutting measures were once again forcing services to be cut, both winter bus service and the celebrated 830 to Swaledale. The YDPTUG Committee decided to act in a radical way by actually chartering its own bus services, which were registered as public bus services by the operators. These were extremely well used but it became clear that if his idea was to grow, we needed a more certain legal structure to prevent the YDPTUG Committee from being at financial or personal risk.
The radical and ground-breaking idea was to set up a relatively new legal model of structure – a Community Interest Company. Advised by the lawyers of Co-operatives UK, Colin Speakman at that time Vice Chairman of the Yorkshire Dales Society (now Friends of the Dales) persuaded the YDS Council to take the initiative in partnership with YDPTUG to establish this new social enterprise body. This was also supported by Andy Ryland then Transport and Tourism Officer for the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority. Three members of YDPTUG - Howard Handley, Paul Chattwood and Colin Speakman became founder Board Members of D&BCIC, together with Chris Wright and Hugh Thornton of the YDS, plus Howard Robinson, Giles Fearnley and John Carr who were appointed as independent Board Members because of their extensive transport expertise. Though the YDS was the parent charity, owning the single share of the company, the real driving force behind the D&BCIC was the YDPTUG which in 2011 changed its name to the simpler to remember Friends of Dales Bus – though we retain our older name as an important reminder our wider transport remit.
Though much of the responsibility for managing and promoting the DalesBus network now belongs properly to D&BCIC who manage the services, the Friends of DalesBus retain a key role as the “Community” element of the D&BCIC that by law the CIC must consult and work with. But because it is not dependent on public sector grants and funding packages to run DalesBus, the Friends of DalesBus remains an independent body, a “critical friend” and supporter of D&BCIC, that nonetheless keeps the option of ensuring that D&BCIC serve the needs of users. Much of our work is primarily to provide support, especially publicity and fund raising, for the operation of DalesBus. However we are also there a campaigning body, with a range of letter writing, articles, and lobbying activity to ensure the voice of bus users is heard in the Dales.
With the huge impact coronavirus now having on every aspect of our lives, we shall continue to do all we can to ensure that vital financial support for DalesBus continues at this difficult time, but with loss of passenger revenues due to lockdown and understandable fears, FoDB’s efforts need to focus on persuading that socially distanced, well ventilated bus and train services are in fact a safe way of travelling (safer than sharing cars or taxis).
But during summer 2020, faced with a catastrophic loss of summer DalesBus services, we have also turned the clock back to our early days, by chartered a new type of pre-bookable, Covid-secure bus service, the DalesBus Vamooz charters. In August 2020 when all Dalesbus services north of Grassington were cancelled we ran three very successful fully booked Vamooz services, in partnership with bus operators Transdev, to Upper Wharfedale, Wensleydale and Hawes from Harrogate, Leeds, Ilkley and Skipton. In September members and friends enjoyed a wonderful day in Ingleton, Kirkby Lonsdale and Sedbergh to be followed by a service to Masham and Richmond in October.
Whatever challenges 2021 offers, hopefully as the worst impacts of coronavirus subside, Friends of DalesBus will be there to support and make our wonderful DalesBus service happen.
Join us today!