Into the Spotlight, sponsored by Huddersfield-based Scriba PR, is a regular feature which highlights some great businesses. Here we profile Honley-based South Pennine Community Transport.

Driven by a desire to improve availability of public transport in rural areas, Kevin Carr bought a bus.

Kevin and wife Helen started Honley-based South Pennine Community Transport eight years ago with the 352 Saturday bus service between Holmfirth and Uppermill.

Now they have a staff of 36 and some 20 buses operating around 40 routes. The buses are part of the communities they serve around Honley, Holmfirth, Meltham, Marsden and Denby Dale.

But their patch is much wider than that stretching out to Uppermill, Glossop, North Halifax and into Barnsley, Sheffield and Rotherham in South Yorkshire.

And while the big bus operators, such as First and Arriva, are struggling with a shortage of drivers and have been forced to cut services, South Pennine Community Transport (SPCT) has found a niche, and passengers love them.

SPCT is a community interest company (CIC), and business manager Claire Leader said: “Our buses are mobile communities – almost like a mobile village.

“We have mobile libraries on board, people collected food on board during Covid and we are a warm space. Our drivers know their passengers and can check on people if they haven’t seen them in a while. Our buses have a community spirit all their own.”

Kevin Carr with business manager Claire Leader

Passengers appreciate the reliability too, something the big bus operators can’t guarantee right now.

“From the passenger feedback we’ve had, people want more of our services,” said Claire. “They want more reliability from their buses and we have a greater success rate in terms of reliability.”

Covid hit all bus companies hard, of course, and passenger numbers generally haven’t fully recovered.

The big operators probably had a harder year last year than during Covid due to a shortage of drivers.

“The industry has struggled with staff retention and part of that is the better money being offered for people to become HGV drivers,” said Claire.

“We do better with staff retention because we try to look after our drivers. At the big operators they are just numbers but here it’s the little things that make a difference, such as getting a day off for your birthday that doesn’t come out of your annual leave.

“Staff get a Christmas box at Christmas and we try to help people and be flexible, and the big operators often don’t have that same flexibility.”

Claire only joined SPCT in December and said: “Before I started working here I can’t remember the last time I was on a bus. I’m a driver and I like to walk as much as I can.

“But in the last few weeks I’ve been out on our buses and I can see they are like little communities. People meet up and have conversations.

“The ‘normal’ experience on a bus is that everybody is engrossed in their paper or their phone and it’s quite anti-social in a way. And if someone sits next to you it’s like they are invading your space. Our buses are the opposite of that.”

SPCT operates subsidised routes and also runs school services to Penistone Grammar, The Brooksbank School at Elland, Lightcliffe Academy and Brighouse High School among others.

Because SPCT runs minibuses such as Mercedes Sprinters and Ford Transits and not traditional single or double-deckers it’s not seen as a ‘normal’ bus company.

“People ask if we stop at bus stops – yes we do!” said Claire. “Just because we don’t look the same doesn’t mean we’re not a bus.

“We’ve even had a ticket for using a bus lane when we’re a bus dropping off passengers at a bus stop. When is a bus not a bus?!”

SPCT has plans for the future but for now it’s all about telling people they are here. The company has teamed up with Huddersfield BID (Business Improvement District) and leaflets and information is on board the buses showcasing what’s on offer in the town centre.

The hope is to encourage more people from outlying towns and villages to come into Huddersfield town centre.

Huddersfield BID manager Sam Sharp said she was delighted to support SPCT and added: “Both organisations are passionate about Huddersfield and the outer areas and both care about local people and businesses.

“During lockdown SPCT delivered food boxes to the most vulnerable and was a vital link with the outside world for people that live in rural areas and do not have regular contact with other people.

“Their buses act as mobile libraries as well as community action hubs, which ensure that the vulnerable and less mobile are checked on regularly, as the drivers and other passengers get to know who is on which route and on what days.

“It is important for Huddersfield BID to connect and work with such vital organisations like SPCT and we value their services to the community.”

Some of the bus routes include an Uppermill and Glossop service on a Saturday and a popular Barnsley service on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

There is also a Tuesday service to Ashton Market and a Thursday service to Penistone Market. SPCT also runs Sheffield city centre shuttle buses.

Concessionary bus passes apply to all routes and there is a £2 fare cap for single journeys and a day pass costs just £4.50.

For more about South Pennine Community Transport and the routes they operate go to their website HERE.