For many years Crewe’s railway hub and Works was famous across the nation, but on the road it was Crosville Buses that once dominated the local transport scene. Nadia Dawson joined the company that spanned Cheshire and North Wales and, despite deregulation and threats of closure, has continued to help travellers make connections for almost 30 years…
“The bus station was opened in 1960, the year I was born. As a kid I’d come here to see where my dad worked, and it seemed huge to me. Everything looked clean and modern. I started to train as an optician when I left school, in one of the units just down the steps by Royal Arcade, but my dad tipped me off about a job here. I was saving up to get married at the time, on a pittance of a wage. Crosville operated the place back then, as they had when buses ran from Market Square. They were considered to be a good company to work for, so coming here seemed a sensible option to me. I started in May 1980 and worked alongside two fantastic people – John Keegan, who had been a bus driver for years, and the loveliest lady called Betty Shaw who eventually served 45 years on the buses in some capacity. She started on Queen Street when Crosville had an office by their old depot. This place really was her life.”
Although most passengers spend just a few minutes waiting at the bus station, the people who work there have a habit of returning and spending many years at the interchange. “It’s no surprise that bus drivers, maintenance crews and office staff stay and often form relationships. During my time I have noticed that people will leave to try something new but they always return in the end. There is something that lures you back in. If you have been away, you’ll always come back and see some friendly faces. They are good people, and it’s always been a great place to work. It’s not got the same prestige that it once had, on a par with Royce’s and Crewe Works as it was in the 1970s and 80s, and yet there is still a lot of pride here. My father always said that if you leave a company make sure that you depart in the manner in which you’d like to return. So we see many drivers coming back here, because they are decent folk. The place is a hub, not only for buses and customers, but also for the many people who work here. It’s great seeing them drop by, even on their days off.”
A strong bond exists between staff at the site, with an increasingly multi-cultural mix making working lives much more interesting and productive. “The demographic has changed a lot in recent years. There are around two hundred drivers who use the station, working for various operators. There are several languages spoken and you often hear conversations that combine two or more! The Polish drivers have been a tremendous help, especially with the growing community around the town. When the Polish and eastern European travellers have needed help they have always been happy to step in and assist me, making sure that they get the best possible service. I think it shows that we’re an effective team, and that we care. Most of them have come here with good English and they are trying to improve themselves all of the time. In fact, when the roads were covered in ice and snow I remember a number of older passengers delighted to see a Polish driver at the wheel. They knew he was going to cope with the weather and conditions as they had more experience of extreme weather conditions around Eastern Europe. So it’s been great to see such a mix of people working here.”
Even being held captive doesn’t seem to deter the drivers, as one amusing incident of inconvenience highlights. “There have been some bizarre days on the bus station. Once, two old ladies came over to the office with a piece of waxy toilet paper. They told us that they could hear banging from within the toilet block. Some building work was taking place that day around the shops off Tower Way and there had been the constant noise of hammers and drills. So we hadn’t noticed anything unusual. When I looked at the paper it had some writing on it. A bus driver was locked inside and had passed the note under the door, asking passers by to come and speak to me in the office. Sure enough, when we walked over, there was a thudding coming from the toilet. He’d been trapped in there for over an hour! He survived, ego a little bruised, but he’s still a driver here.”
The incredible variety of customers will never cease to amaze Nadia, all of them with different stories to tell and varying reasons for using the buses. “There’s a network of people who use our services regularly and I’d say that they are more considerate than others. People who give up their car for a day tend to be more demanding, more irksome. They don’t appreciate the problems drivers encounter, often out of their control. Then we have regulars who love to keep me updated about their lives and will often wait for the next bus so they can stop for a chat. I’ve even met old ladies who were in the French Resistance! You just need to ask in order to learn about people. That stimulates me. Then there are the official guests, like the visit of Conservative leader David Cameron during the 2008 by-election. We were a little upset that the place didn’t look its best, but I did manage to get a handshake. He was positive about what his party would do for the transport system, and it’s nice when they make the effort to come and see us. There was tight security that day, but it was nothing to the drama of a few years ago when we had a bomb scare. We had to evacuate the station and head to the Delamere Street car park. When it happened I thought it would be chaos, but it was surprisingly easy – mainly because of the older passengers who reacted very calmly and guided the youngsters to safety.”
The location of the bus station has been debated for years and numerous schemes have promised redevelopment. Successive councils have failed to start the regeneration, and a private scheme incorporating the town centre has also stalled. “They have talked about changes since the day I started here. I think there’s a case for having the bus station in the centre, maybe just outside the main shopping core. But I hope they keep something close enough so that the people who really need the services are not prevented from getting around Crewe. For years we have only asked for the place to be brightened up and, to be fair, there has been some progress. One of the best schemes was a community project funded by Crewe companies and organisations. Kids and local artists created pieces of art that covered many of the walls around the station. They also took pictures of local people and drivers and made a mosaic of them for people to look at as they waited for buses. I think being able to identify faces from the town was a great idea and I’d like to see that repeated. It’s easy to moan about how a place looks but to me it has always been about the people who come here. They are more important than bricks, concrete and a few fancy signs. Look after them and the rest will follow.”
Nadia’s story appeared in “Crewe And Its People” that was published back in 2009; all forty stories will be posted here between February and June as a permanent series of social history documents for Cheshire. A second volume of fascinating Crewe life stories will be available to buy from September 2016.