NOSTALGIA: All aboard for fun on the Playbus in the 80s and 90s

Bewbush Playbus
Bewbush Playbus

Children who grew up in the 80s and 90s will recognise the Playbus straight away and it was a familiar fixture at the Dorsten Square car park in Bewbush.

It all began when the south east branch of the Girl Guides Association chose to spend their portion of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee Fund on a project in the new neighbourhood of Bewbush.

At the time, Bewbush had no community centre but a community bus seemed to be an ideal temporary replacement.

After it had been converted and painted by BAA and BCal, Lady Baden Powell officially presented the bus – then called Supersonic – to Bewbush in August 1980 and it was put to use in a summer playscheme and then as a pre-school playgroup.

And its ‘temporary’ status ran on and on and on...

Sue Wickstead, of Furnace Green, played a huge part in making the bus the success story it became.

She said: “I came to Bewbush in about 1985 and I looked around for playgroups. A friend suggested the Playbus. The bus had seen better days. They had sold the space on the side of the bus to a carpet shop and they had splashed a huge advert across it – it looked awful.”

Not content to simply be one of the parents, Sue threw herself into improving the bus – and the first thing it needed was a paint job.

With the help of Gatwick Engineering and an awful lot of paint, the new nursery rhyme design took shape – though the children soon noticed that Humpty Dumpty was very naughty as he was looking straight into the toilet window!

The Playbus hit a new high when it took the lead in the carnival procession of 1987, but a low followed when it was vandalised – a distressing trend that was to plague the scheme year after year and resulted in one of the buses being scrapped in 1991.

Sue, who became a primary school teacher, discussed her time with the bus with enthusiasm, speaking highly of the people involved over the years – names like Trevor Bastin and Angela Flat without whom it would never have been such a success.

She said: “The first driver was Phil Avery and the children loved him. He used to drive the bus to Gatwick for safe keeping.”

The bus spent a lot of time at the airport after being invited to entertain bored children when the airlines were choked by delays.

Sue said: “We parked outside the North Terminal and it was so well received. We had grandparents who came along and played with the Lego.”

The 90s were exciting times for the Playbus team. News reached them that there was a national Playbus organisation – they were not alone – and the old bus made trips to Newcastle and back to take part in bus rallies. And in 1992, when the Worthing scheme folded, Sue signed a deal with them to buy their red 1968 Leyland Atlantean NRG 176M for the grand price of £5.

Sue said: “The Bewbush bus was the first of many in Sussex. We were a pioneering group.”