New owners of Chambers Coaches under fire after hundreds of Stevenage pupils are left stranded

The new owners of Chambers Coaches have come under fire after Stevenage pupils were left stranded an

The new owners of Chambers Coaches have come under fire after Stevenage pupils were left stranded and families out of pocket. - Credit: Archant

Hundreds of Stevenage pupils are being left stranded and families are being left out of pocket as a once trusted coach firm finds itself in crisis.

Chambers Coaches, based in Graveley, abandoned its long-held agreement with John Henry Newman School after leaving pupils standing at bus stops after school last Friday afternoon and has pulled out of numerous school trips at the last minute – leaving pupils disappointed.

Ashtree Primary School students had to use a different company to take them home from the Isle of Wight and the firm cancelled today’s school trip for Woolenwick School pupils to Frinton-on-Sea at the last minute, agreeing instead to take the children to Fairlands Valley Park.

The business’ current owners – Varsity Transport Holdings – bought the family-run company dating back to 1966 earlier this year.

They say they are “aware that we have let a lot of people down” but insist there have been “lots of mitigating factors”.

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John Henry Newman head Clive Mathew said 300 of his pupils were experiencing big delays in services and finding some buses not turning up to take them to and from the Hitchin Road school, until last Friday when they just didn’t turn up at all.

Now families are owned money for season tickets for the last two weeks of term which have not been covered – an amount of some £50 per pupil – which for 300 pupils totals £15,000.

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He told the Comet: “We’ve used Chambers for as long as I can remember and its service was excellent.

“Since half term this year the service has been poor. Then last Friday, no buses came to collect any of the children.

“It caused enormous problems. Large numbers of staff had to come to school on Saturday and contacted parents and we’ve had to try to arrange a combination of lifts, mini buses and trains to get the 300 children affected to school.

“The company had its 50th anniversary last year and it was a really proud part of Stevenage’s heritage.

“I’m sure the original owners would be devastated to see what has happened.”

Woolenwick pupils were due to go to Frinton-on-Sea today but were told by Chambers yesterday the company couldn’t take them, so instead had to rearrange the trip to Fairlands Valley Park.

Parents jumped on-board with a Facebook appeal to save the trip, but it was unsuccessful.

The firm also bussed pupils from Ashtree Primary School to the Isle of Wight last week but were unable to taken them back, so an alternative coach firm picked them up at a later time than originally planned.

There are also unconfirmed reports that on Tuesday of this week a group of stroke survivors from a local day centre were left high and dry at the car park at The Oval in Stevenage by Chambers, with only a wet brick wall to sit on. They were supposed to be taken for a day out and a lunch at St Ives in Cambridgeshire.

A spokesman for the firm said: “In the short time frame that we have owned the company we have had to deal with lots of mitigating factors including vehicle reliability, driver recruitment and other operational difficulties faced by all operators in this business sector.

“When we had to take the decision to terminate our school services this decision was not taken lightly and we have had many discussions with the school as to our position on the services. When the services were terminated we did this to allow as much time as possible for the school to organise alternatives.

“With reference to the Isle of Wight we had a vehicle availability issue, this was notified to the school concerned by email at 5.24pm on June 15. The school were told a different company would pick them up and we arranged this to our best ability. This resulted in a later departure time from the Isle of Wight for which we apologised.

“We’re aware that we’ve let a lot of people down and the owners of the company who are all local and independent are not enjoying the fact that we’ve had to let people down, but we are determined 100 per cent to restore our reputation and we will turn it around.”

Cambridge-based Varsity Transport Holdings was established as a new parent company for Eclipse Coaches of Cambridge and sister company Eclipse Tours, Holidays & Excursions, in March this year.

Simultaneously VTH bought Chambers Coaches Limited for an undisclosed sum, following the decision by directors Martin Chambers and Debra Tidey – son and daughter of the company’s founder, Cyril Chambers – to retire.

Chambers Coaches had celebrated its golden jubilee in 2016.

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