THE region’s biggest taxi firm has launched a delivery service linking some of the region’s most iconic businesses with their customers.

Blueline Taxis has hundreds of drivers operating throughout the region and launched its new Grab app earlier this week. The www.grabnortheast.co.uk website went live at the same time.

Tom Shanks, the company’s Finance Director, explained: “It’s a family-run, north-east version of Deliveroo or Uber Eats, but using our taxis and the brilliant regional food and drink sector. The app also caters for other products and suppliers – including skincare, pet food, protein bars and ‘little learner’ boxes.

“We’ve invested about £100,000 so far into the venture, but we believe Grab could become a multi-million pound business.

“Obviously because of the COVID-19 crisis people are taking far fewer journeys so taxis are being used less. It has been a massive challenge to our business and we’ve had to adapt. We’re a massive transport company and in ordinary times can complete more than 85,000 journeys a week No-one covers the area north of Blyth to Hartlepool as well as we do, so we thought why can’t we deliver products as well as people? We have the capacity to make thousands of deliveries every day.

“Grab is our response, a way of getting the produce of our home-grown local food and drink produce, and other products, to customers who can’t leave their homes. It’s also going to be an important lifeline for thousands of isolated local people.

“We’ve already circulated £25,000 worth of vouchers among NHS and other vital COVID-19 workers as we thought it was the right thing to do. We’ve also distributed 500 custom-made gift boxes to hospitals and ambulance stations as our way of saying thank you to NHS workers. The chocolate went down particularly well with nurses!”

Regional brands such as Dicksons, the Vaulkhard Group, Marlish Water, snack firm Oatein, Tyne Bank Brewery, Bowers Butchers, Café 1901, J.R. Holland, Sambuca, The Newcastle Gin Co, Clearly Drinks in Sunderland, Newcastle Skin Clinic, My Pet HQ , Templeman Retail, and Vending and Hoults Yard-based Full Circle Brew Co and The Pip Stop are among the 20-plus businesses that have already signed up for Grab.

“We’re adding new providers and suppliers daily, and we’re delighted with the range and quality of companies involved,” added Tom, who joined the family business after completing a degree in Spanish, French and Portuguese at Newcastle University and then a masters degree in finance at Durham University.

Blueline was created in 1958 by Tom’s grandparents Colin and Audrey Shanks. Colin fought in World War Two and was captured three times and escaped twice before making it back to the UK.

He met and married Audrey in London, running a tobacconists there before returning home to take over the company’s store in Northumberland Street, Newcastle. After saving up they bought an Austin Morris with a blue ‘coach’ line trim and went into the taxi business – the rest is history.

Blueline’s new venture has partnered with The Greggs Foundation – a charitable trust aiming to make a difference to the lives of disadvantaged people within our local communities – as part of its company ethos of giving back.

Grab is also being supported by Food and Drink North East (FADNE), the organisation that champions the region’s food and drink community.

The alliance will see FADNE Local Heroes food boxes – made up from local producers and suppliers – available via Grab for same or next day delivery

FADNE Founder and CEO Chris Jewitt said: “Blueline is an iconic, successful and innovative regional company.

“This partnership feels like a very symbolic moment in this trade initiative. For the north east food and drink sector to survive and grow beyond this crisis, it is critical that we develop such partnerships. We are delighted to be working with Blueline which we believe will ensure the success of our Local Heroes campaign.”

Tom added: “We’re delighted Chris and FADNE are involved – their knowledge of the regional sector is second to none.”

He described how Grab will work: ““Customers will pay us via credit/debit card of Apple Pay and then we’ll contact the supplier and arrange delivery – there’ll only be one payment and customers will find we’re more affordable than some of our national competitors.”

For more information, log on to www.grabnortheast.co.uk or download the app from the usual app stores.

To find out more about The Greggs Foundation, or to donate, please visit: www.greggsfoundation.org.uk