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Festival of Transport: a showcase event for our region?

On the weekend of the 13th and 14th July 2019, we saw what is now the third annual Festival of Transport event, held at the Seaburn Recreation Park. I hadn’t attended this event last year, but given I was due in Sunderland around 4pm, I thought I’d pop along and see what was happening.

So a bit of background: Launched in August 2016, it was said that the “new festival will bring together vintage buses, traction engines, commercial vehicles and cars.” and that “It is hoped it will become a major showcase event for the region and has received backing from a number of groups including the North East Bus Preservation Trust, North East Land Sea and Air Museum and Sunderland and District Classic Vehicle Society.”, as published in this Northern Echo article. The first event was held on the last weekend of July 2017.

FESTIVAL: Councillor John Kelly, from Sunderland City Council and vintage motorbike owner Graeme Curtis (right) help to launch the new North East Festival of Transport. Picture: WILL WALKER/NORTH NEWS
Councillor John Kelly, from Sunderland City Council and vintage motorbike owner Graeme Curtis (right) help to launch the new North East Festival of Transport. Picture: WILL WALKER/NORTH NEWS.

The first event held in 2017, and having attended, I found it to be a decent day out. There was a lot of different vehicles present, from buses to cars, from commercial vehicles to service vehicles. There really was something for everyone to see. There was also an infrequent shuttle bus service running, but only to Roker beach and back.

However, the first question to come to mind at the time, was “What about the Seaburn Rally?”

The Seaburn Rally, or to give it it’s full name, the ‘Seaburn Historic Vehicle Display’, is an annual rally held at the same location, on the Late Summer Bank Holiday in August. Anyone who has attended the Seaburn Rally will know that this is always more than buses. Whilst the perimeter fence along the West and North sides of the park are usually lined with Buses, the majority of the show field is made up of other vehicles: cars, commercial vehicles and service vehicles – i.e. an identical specification to the Festival of Transport.

So why have two events in two months, offering the same thing, at the same location? Who knows, but the organisers have persisted with the strategy for three years now.

There was still something missing though, and something I find to be missing from all our rallies in the North East, with exception of the 500 Group’s running day: a distinct lack of organisation, information and promotion.

For the second event in 2018, the organisers decided to move the event to the 8th and 9th September. Barely two weeks after the Seaburn Rally had taken place. The first announcement of this on the official North East Festival of Transport Facebook page was on the 1st September… a week before the event, which happened to clash with one of the Region’s largest events – the Great North Run.

I didn’t bother to attend this event, but by all accounts, the turnout was poor. Whether that is down to the the Sunday road closures for the Great North Run, or the sheer lack of notice or information about the event, remains to be confirmed…

So back to 2019, and we started to receive some vague links on the North East Festival of Transport Facebook page, with a couple of further posts announcing dates of the 13th and 14th July 2019. Finally, on the 10th March, a flyer and an entry form was published, followed by an announcement that the ‘Fans Museum‘ mobile football museum was to attend. A bit of a strange one, given it is a transport event, but equally something that I would look forward to seeing.

This was the last of the publicity for the event, until a reminder post was published on Facebook, a day before the first day of the event.

Fast forward to the weekend of the event, and so came the first post on the North East Buses forum. A solitary bus was captioned in a big empty field. Another contributor, however, pointed out that today was a “family fun day with a limited number of vehicles on display”

Time to see for myself.

Having arrived on the Sunday afternoon on the E2, I could see straight away that there was very little to see, as the bus swung round the recreation park to stop before the old fountain roundabout. I walked up and round to the West side gate of the Park, taking a panoramic photo on my way.

View from top corner vehicle gate

The event advertised £2 admission into the event, which was also stated on a poster at the gate. I did however find that the table by the entrance was empty, and a few people were just walking straight in. I thought I’d wait a minute or two, but nobody was around to take my money, so I too walked straight in.

I did notice on my way out that there were four stewards stood by the bottom gate, but this was a bit of a waste of time, given the West pedestrian gate and South vehicle gates were wide open, with no stewards around to attend to them.

Upon entry, it became obvious just how few exhibits were at this event. In addition to this, there was only a handful of people inside. I’d have a rough guess at less than 20, if you discount the people who have turned up as families with their vintage cars on show. There was about 20 cars there, but even they were quite heavily dominated by 90s cars.

In contrast, there were three times as many cars turning up at the Coxhoe classic car evening a few weeks ago, and that included Ferraris and Lamborghinis…

View from the centre footpath
North East Festival of Transport 2019: The majority of buses lined up, including a modern Go North East bus.

The photo above shows the majority of buses on display lined up, aside from two that were on shuttle work, and another that was still parked up by itself, over the other side of the field.

There was really little else to see. I think I counted three trade stalls, a burger van, an ice cream van, and an inflatable slide for kids. The ‘Fans Museum’ that was advertised, didn’t appear to be in attendance, and there was very little visible sign of the camping that was on offer.

As I wrote on the North East Buses forum, my review of the day was a mere 2/10. That is only because of the glorious sunshine on the day, and that I got in for free; which makes up for the extra money I spent on a Day Rover.

So in summary: This is now the third event of the North East Festival of Transport, which when launching the idea in 2016, stated: “The event is aiming to fulfil a long held wish of transport enthusiasts in the region to create a major showcase event, similar to those held in some other part of the country.”

And that: “Interest among vintage vehicle owners is already high with hundreds of vehicles expected on the large and easily accessible show fields, within sight of Sunderland’s Blue Flag award winning beaches.”

The event is organised by the Sunderland District Classic Vehicle Society and the North East Bus Preservation Trust, but advertise that they also receive support from the Sunderland City Council: North Area Committee. It is unknown as to what that support entails.

So what has happened? Has the long held wish been fulfilled? I would suggest not.


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