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The Big Purple Playbus

Gaunless Gateway’s mobile solution.

How do you get the best opportunities to the most people? Gaunless Gateway Big Local recommend going mobile! Their Big Purple Bus is set to bring youth provision right to people’s doorsteps.


By Sue Miller, Big Local ambassador

At Newcastle Spring Event this year, I attended an engaging and thought provoking workshop run by a Big Local area in County Durham. Christine, Lynn and Barbara from Bishop Auckland Big Local told the story behind their ‘Big Purple Playbus’. They showed the value of individuals with vision, of working with local partners, and of seizing opportunities!

Gaunless Gateway Big Local Partnership area includes about 18,000 residents from 6 neighbourhood areas, spread over a 3 mile radius. Gaunless Gateway Big Local’s key aims reflect the needs of the area:

  • to create jobs
  • to address crime
  • to provide facilities for children
  • to bring different age groups together
  • to improve health and wellbeing

They were looking for new ways of providing facilities for children, but had a lack of suitable locations or organisations that could serve the whole area.

A playbus hired and paid for through the local parish council had been offering free supervised sessions in West Auckland for 2-11 year olds. The bus’s mobility meant sessions could be brought right to people’s doorsteps making them popular and accessible. The parish council was not in a position to sustain this input, so the community needed a Plan B.


The road to Gaunless Gateway’s own playbus

When a local bus owner moving to a new job offered his bus to the parish council for £5000, Lynn took the idea to Gaunless Gateway Big Local, for use across all 6 parts of the.area  Keen to make the playbus their own, a business plan was developed which included bringing in additional partners such as local schools.  The children would enjoy play and craft activities and parents and carers could engage and share information covering a range of topics: accident prevention, dental health, budgeting, food distribution. The bus could be hired for events such as children’s parties, thus providing an income stream to support its sustainability.

Big Local bought the bus, which is currently garaged securely by a local company while legalities are completed for its insurance. The aim is to have it on the road by the summer, run by volunteers, sessional workers and retired bus drivers. It is hoped that word of mouth will draw people in and generate sufficient investment and hire opportunities to make the bus sustainable.


Turning the playbus into a social enterprise or business in its own right would provide regular income for someone in the community.

Advice for avoiding potholes – and discovering opportunities!

  • Branding on the bus will advertise Gaunless Gateway thus raising the profile of the project. Hopefully this builds willingness to volunteer; a potential step on a pathway to paid sessional work and employment.
  • Bus benefits from local ‘sponsors’: trusted individuals (Chair of Big Local) and local groups (parish council) with credibility to take temporary responsibility and act as contacts for DVLA.
  • Other areas may find local authorities have similar community assets that they can no longer fund and might gift to a community group.
  • Big Local funding can be readily used to transform and maintain the look of the bus so it presents as a ‘quality’ product but still has a community feel.
  • Shy bairns get nowt! Energy invested in building relationships means the bus is housed securely and for free by a company in the local area.
  • Big Locals can become entities in their own right, allowing them to hold insurance policies and licences. Local Trust can advise on options.

The sustainability of the bus as a business rather than a grant funded service relies on it being adopted by the community, local schools, businesses, individuals. We cannot under estimate that challenge. However, someone once said we should never doubt that a few committed citizens can change the world. The energy, drive and determination demonstrated by key passionate individuals was truly inspiring.