North East Connected

Community Transport Charity Driven to Success

Screen Shot 2015-07-13 at 12.08.50After nearly 20 years of supporting groups and individuals across Northumberland, community charities WATBus and WATBike are enjoying life in the fast lane.

WATBus transports over 200 voluntary and community groups and individuals from across the North East, tackling issues of social isolation and accessibility which affect people in rural areas across the region. Following WATBus’s success, founderColin Hall established a second project, WATBike, using their fleet of minibuses and bespoke bike trailers to give cyclists – including school and corporate groups – access to the region’s wide range of cycle routes.

This year, Colin has enjoyed speedy growth for both WATBus and WATBike. The number of regular volunteers that support their daily activities has rocketed to over 25 people, from 16 the previous year. Colin has also been able to appoint an extra full time employee, Barry Armstrong, who is tasked with helping to grow both WATBus and WATBike further.

As part of his focus on the growth and development of WATBus and WATBike, Colin recognised the increasing importance of digital technology in helping him reach a wider audience in the area and has began working to improve his skills.

After hearing about the free programme of digital training on offer from iNorthumberland Business Support, which is delivered by Arch Digital, he visited the organisation’s online portal – – to find out more, and decided to take advantage of the training on offer when he realised he would be able to increase awareness of both of his organisations by learning more about social media and digital marketing.

Now, following completion of courses on social media, digital marketing and search engine optimisation, Colin has started to take a more strategic approach to social media with the aim of better raising awareness of WATBus’ and WATBike’s activities. He has also used services such as MailChimp to create professional looking e-newsletters to keep his community updated with the organisation’s latest events and happenings.

Colin has also attended masterclasses to further enhance his skills, giving him the chance to network with other businesses and learn from their experiences of the course.

Over 500 weekly guided leisure rides have now been organised, giving riders the opportunity to enjoy the natural beauty of the North East safely and with confidence. Workshop facilities have also been developed in the last year, enabling the organisation to provide innovative bike training programmes and to offer bike services, repair and recycling.

Colin said: “I have been blown away by the online response I have had from communities across the North East. We are grateful to all of our volunteers and I am so pleased that I have been able to bring Barry on board to help us grow even more.”

“I have been very impressed with the quality of the business support on offer, especially as they were fully funded and didn’t cost me anything. I found that the training has really helped with the growth of both my organisations – I used to be a business advisor myself and it was obvious that a lot of time and effort had been put into making the training as useful as it can be to businesses and organisations like mine across Northumberland.”

Cllr Dave Ledger, Deputy Leader of Northumberland County Council and chair of Arch, The Northumberland Development Company said: “WATBus and WATBike are making a big difference to communities across Northumberland and it’s great that he has been able to benefit from the training provided by iNorthumberland Business Support.

“We have had a lot of positive feedback and it seems as though the courses have really helped businesses in the area to capitalise on the available superfast broadband. Demand for the bespoke business support has been high and we would encourage all local businesses – whether a start-up or established company – to register at and experience the benefits for themselves.”

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