A Christmas hero : Meet bus driver Margaret Pannell
29 November 2013 -Margaret Pannell began working as a bus driver in Newcastle in 1997 and got to know most of her regular passengers quite well. The majority were elderly people who had lost their loved ones or had no family and were therefore truly not looking forward to Christmas.
The same year, a week before Christmas she decided to put some Christmas carols on a cassette tape and play them on the bus to cheer up her passengers and make them feel some of the holiday’s joy. It was a big hit. The following year she added more decorations to the bus she used every day. Each year, as its popularity grew, so did the extent of the decorating.
"The first year was just a roll of tinsel and a cassette player playing Christmas carols on the dashboard of the bus. Every year, I just added more", writes Mrs Pannel on her Christmas Bus blog.
Now Mrs Pannell's famous Christmas bus is adorned with flashing lights on its wheels, yuletide-themed seat covers, beaming pictures of Santa, Christmas decorations and plenty of tinsel.
Every passenger receives a lollipop when getting on board the bus. Children receive candy canes and tickets get stamped with the Christmas bus stamp on them. Passengers enjoy the atmosphere so much that many of them offer money for the lollipops and the Christmas cheer, which gives Mrs Pannell the opportunity to turn their gifts into a greater Christmas present by donating the money to local hospitals.
When she first began the Christmas bus, no other drivers would be "caught dead" driving it.
"But now I've got my list of Santa's helpers and they fight over who has the most shifts now," she mentions on her blog.
"I just like to see the smiles on people's faces. They are so appreciative", says Mrs Pannell.
Visit Margret's Christmas Bus blog