Wednesday 22 April 2015

A Day Of Firsts

It was just going to be a routine day really. I was heading into Norwich to meet up with First Business Manager and night club bouncer Chris Speed for a tour of First's new offices and crew accommodation in Castle Meadow, as well as one of our now regular chinwags. I have to say I was unprepared for the scale of the place - I was under the impression it was basically a restroom and supervisor's office, but no, the whole operation is in the process of relocating from Rouen House.

After showing me the driver's new restroom and canteen, which when completed will have a full and extensive kitchen serving a full range of cooked meals, I was taken to meet Lee Howes. Operations Manager at Norwich, who I've been wanting to meet for sometime. I realised immeidiately that left alone Lee and I could be talking for hours and the poor man would never get any work done. The real impression I got, though, was that Lee was delighted to be in the new offices so close to the action, so to speak, and now he could really get on top of things. He told me there were times in his old office he wouldn't see a bus all day. That is set to change. A new roadside supervisor is set to be employed in Castle Meadow so hopefully that will help the bunching that occurs when incidents happen. A pleasure to meet you, Lee, and I hope to see you again soon

We then adjourned to Chris's new office, at the front of the building overlooking Castle Meadow. I didn't take too many pictures in the new complex, but I did insist on one of Chris's office, which he is sharing with Hugo Forster, First Norfolk's General manager, who wasn't around yesterday. Chris has approved this pic.

Chris's new office
I'll show the view from out of his window at the end of the post. We nattered for ages but sadly the huge majorty of what we talked about I can't publish! What I can say is the repaint programme at Norwich is set to recommence soon. I saw the list but can't reveal it! Just as well actually as I remember very little of it! One thing I can reveal is regarding 69426/8 in Ipswich. It seems that the original purpose of their painting into Excel hybrid livery may not be happening now, and so they will remain as they are now, looking great in regular service.

What I haven't mentioned yet is while I was getting the grand tour we passed the biggest office in the new premises. I was introduced to the gentleman occupying said office and invited back after I'd finished with Chris.

I appreciate excellence, regardless of what it is. It could be a flawless piece of driving, a Beethoven Symphony played to perfection, a steak cooked exactly right etc. However excellence doesn't always equal enthusiasm. Enthusiasm is what I felt when I was sitting in the office of First Eastern Counties Managing Director, David Squire. I was completey unprepared for this meeting, and had absolutely no questions prepared. However I needn't have worried. I'm not sure how long I was talking to David - around an hour I think, and the subject of First took up I'd say around 5 minutes of that hour. The rest of the time we were talking buses not business. We compared experiences both as passengers and drivers. David grew up in the Merseyside area, and worked for many years for Crosville. indeed he told me about a make of bus I'd never heard of which he regards as the most lethal bus ever built! I'm currently researching it for a post soon.

David revealed he is a regular reader of the blog and in particular said how much he enjoyed the recently introduced foreign features. I'm delighted to say that he has accepted my invitation to become a contributor, as he travels extensively and has a large collection of photos from other countries he is willing to share. I am grateful to anyone who contributes to the blog, but to have a contributor so far up the industry ladder is an endorsement I'm rather proud of.

When we weren't talking about Leyland Atlanteans or how we could get away with things 30 years ago that you'd get dragged into Court for these days, I sensed the drive and passion that David has for First. He described it as still very much a work in progress, but the progress so far has been good and wide ranging. The whole team seem very proud of Ipswich and the transformation there, and are now concentrating on the rest of the region, in particular Norwich. The change in policy to involve enthusiasts and bloggers, realising the valuable information and feedback they can provide starts at the very top, and it was made clear the wish is for that policy to filter through to all staff. Obviously that is a policy I cannot praise highly enough.

First have clearly realised that if you look after your staff they will look after you. The new crew accommodation is of a high standard, and the fact that managers are more accessible to deal with any issues will help relations too. First offer good pay and now they offer good conditions for Norwich drivers too. Other operators may have to take note and act if they wish to hang on to their best drivers.

I started this blog 18 months ago yesterday. David Squire became MD of First Eastern Counties 20 months ago. When I first started I had many criticisms and scant praise for First. Now the opposite applies, and I have a feeling over the next year we will notice improvement on improvement. If there is enthusiasm and love for the job and the industry at the top, then the rest of the staff will notice and respond accordingly. I was describing an operator to someone the other day by saying the love had gone from it - people came in and did their job but there was no passion at the top. Since David Squire appointed his team, including Chris Speed, the whole atmosphere at First has changed, attitudes have changed, and the results are beginning to show. There is an air of enthusiasm and determination about the place, and I'm looking forward to reporting developments as and when they happen. It's going to be an exciting year. Thank you for your time, David, it was a really unexpected pleasure.

I said I'd finish with the view from Chris Speed's new office window and here it is. I guess there are worse views if you're a bus manager!

Hands up if you're jealous!


  1. Excellent post Steve - as for the 'hands up' bit, I didn't know you were a 'Steve Wright in the Afternoon' fan! Or are you reallyone and the same person? (It's weird that you never see the two of them together!)

  2. Are you saying like clark kent and the bloke with the tights Roy lol. Yes a top post and boy what a view ! It is good to have good relations with those that are technically the custodians if the hobby and long may it continue for all of us

  3. Thanks, gents. I was a big fan of Steve Wright when he was on Radio 1 in the late 80's, not quite so much now! Never heard the "hands up" bit I admit! Tim I really like the phrase "custodians of the hobby" That is really profound yet accurate too. Never thought of it in qute that way.