Experience and pride at Heathside

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Heathside is a fan of the Irizar product, and has stayed loyal to the brand for its latest purchase. ADRIAN MORTON

Adrian Morton visits well-presented Dorset operator and UK Coach Rally regular Heathside Travel to find out what makes the company tick

When attending the 68th UK Coach Rally in April this year, one of the liveries I found myself being most attracted to was that of Heathside Travel from Ferndown in Dorset. After obtaining owner Tim Southby’s number from an industry colleague, one evening I dropped him a text message asking if he would like to feature in a forthcoming issue of CBW. The answer was of course a resounding yes (who wouldn’t!), so a date was set in the diary. I’ve always had a soft spot for Dorset, with many childhood holidays taken in Swanage, so very much looked forward to my visit.

It started out as a lovely bright sunny day when I left my Cheshire home so I expected the south to afford even finer weather and higher temperatures but how wrong could I be! I met Tim at the company’s depot on the fringes of Bournemouth airport and soon after stepping out of the car, I had to return to grab a jacket.


Tim was enthusiastic to show me his latest coach purchase and the special livery which adorns it, more of which later. We boarded the coach to take some respite from the elements and that’s where we settled, as Tim began to explain how it all began. I have to mention at this point though, how noticeably pleasant the seats fitted to the Irizar i6s in which we were sat were, the cushions divinely comfortable.

Tim explained that he had chosen an up-rated version of the standard offering and that customer feedback had also been positive. Later the same day I had to take a train journey to central London, which would be on a GWR Class 802 IET, a type on which passengers are often seated for up to six hours. It then became even more apparent just how comfortable those Irizar seats had been; those on the IET were like sitting on concrete, and dare I say the ride quality of the Irizar is probably far superior too!

Tim grew up in Maidstone, Kent, and had a passion for coaches from a young age. Due to his interest in miniature steam railways and the offer of employment, he later moved to Dorset with his clearly very understanding wife, Hannah. It is the uncle of one of Tim’s oldest school friends from Maidstone who operates the Moors Valley Railway in nearby Ringwood, so between the ages of eight and 17 Tim’s family would holiday in Dorset so he could go


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The company takes pride in its fleet, and has specified extra padding on seats. ADRIAN MORTON

to the railway. At the age of 17 Tim passed his test to drive a train, so to this day still regularly helps at the railway when he’s not behind the wheel of one of his beloved coaches.

Wanting to become a coach driver came from going on school trips and the relationship he formed with Richard Brook of respected operator Brookline Coaches. Tim remembers being eight years old when his teacher, Miss Blackmore, asked ‘as a special treat, would you like to sit at the front next to me so you can see the driver?’.

Tim jumped at the opportunity, immediately asking Richard questions about his job. Richard said that he got to go on day trips, holidays, see theatre shows, meet new people and generally have great experiences whilst getting paid for it too, and Tim was instantly struck, and that is really how the foundations of Heathside travel were laid. I do wonder though, that although as Tim recites the story, his teacher asked him if he would like to come to the front of the coach to watch the driver, whether he actually didn’t get a choice and was moved from the back row for being naughty…

When Tim was about 10 years old he went to his great aunt’s house and saw a picture on the mantelpiece of a coach with a person next to it. He asked his aunt who it was. Her response: Tim’s grandad, Algernon Samuel Southby, and he was stood next to the coach he looked after. Tim was left in amazement and remembers smiling so much, his grandad was also now his inspiration.

Tim is one of two children from his father’s second marriage. He never got to know his grandad, as he was still very young when he passed away. After being called for national service in World War One, Tim’s grandad worked for the erstwhile Maidstone & District for an incredible 40 years, from 1913 to 1953.


Tim has a number of pictures of his grandfather but by far his favourite is the aforementioned one. In it, his grandfather is standing next to a 1951 Commer, known as the Knightrider, taken by The Archway in Tenderton in 1953. The coach was named after the road in which the Maidstone & District offices were based and was furnished with sixteen leather seats and tables.

It was primarily used for the Directors to travel in when they visited depots across the region. Remarkably, the coach still survives and back in 2021 Tim managed to track it down. At the time it was having an engine rebuild and the owner was called David, Tim recites, but he has since lost touch. If there is someone reading this who knows David and the coach, could you kindly make contact with Tim, as one day he would love the opportunity to perhaps purchase this wonderful piece of history and properly step into his grandfather’s footsteps.

Tim left school at 16 knowing he didn’t want to become a bus driver but worrying what to do if he didn’t like being a coach driver, so looked for something to study that would also benefit him if he did enjoy it and wanted to own his own coach one day.

He took a two year business studies course, which he achieved in a year, and also one in IT. On completion he bizarrely took a job as an operating theatre porter and soon began to get itchy feet four years later when he knew he was old enough to drive a coach. With that came a call from a friend in Dorset who said that her mum had found him a job in the local paper. Tim spoke to his friend’s mum, got all the details and called the company, Damory Coaches in Bladford Forum. He spoke to Ian Gray, told him his story and that he had always wanted to be a coach driver. Damory had not long been bought by the Go-Ahead group so Ian had to firstly check with head office whether Tim could be accepted considering his age. Tim was approved and following a successful interview asked to come back when he had obtained his provisional licence, PSV medical, and passed the theory and hazard perception tests. Somewhat surprised Ian took a call from Tim just four weeks later that all was achieved, thus Tim began his practical training.

Normally you would have been expected to drive buses for a period of time, but still at just 21 years of age Ian felt confident and gave Tim the trust to begin his coach driving career, for which Tim says he will always be indebted to Ian, who enabled him to be where he is today. Tim got quite emotional whilst telling me about this period in his life and also wished to thank Ron and Phil who worked there at the time, and the then Managing Director of Go South Coast, Alex Carter. Whilst at Damory Tim also made friends with Jamie Burrows, now of Burrows Coaches in Blandford who has also gone on to run his own successful business. There must have been something in the water at Damory at the time!

The company’s fleet has won awards, including in the minibus category at the 2023 UK Coach Rally. JONATHAN WELCH

A new plan

Tim moved back to Kent in 2007 to be closer to his girlfriend – and now wife – Hannah, where he says he managed a job at Kings Ferry for a year before convincing Hannah that Dorset was where he needed to be. He returned to Damory Coaches in 2013.

A change of management made Tim realise that operating his own coaches was definitely what he wanted to do, so he left to become a Business Development Manager for a vehicle repair company. This gave him insight and knowledge on how to use marketing effectively and how to grow a business. Two years later, after already successfully passing his Operator’s CPC, the opportunity arose to become the Operations Manager for North Dorset Travel, with the possibility to purchase the business on the owner’s retirement, which had been planned to be at the company’s centenary. This did not come to fruition so, following a conversion with Hannah one evening, the very next day Heathside Travel Ltd was registered with Companies House and a plan put into action.

Tim felt that a 19-seater was needed locally to fill a gap in the market and with a little financial assistance from his grandparents sought to purchase what he felt to be the best vehicle on the market at the time, an EVM Grand Tourer. To Tim’s credit, beforehand, he approached his good friend Louisa at nearby Homeward Bound Travel to ask for her approval. Louisa was thrilled and both continue to enjoy excellent relations, often helping each other out. I personally got to know Louisa much better myself a couple of years ago, and can vouch for the fact that she’s a lovely lady with an equally delightful little business, so it is easily understandable why the two compliment each other so well.

The first day

Monday 3 October 2016 was the day it all began. The Grand Tourer was delivered, and it completed its first hire on 5 October, a hugely memorable and proud week for the fledgeling company. I complimented Tim on the livery and indeed the design of his holiday brochures in the coach.

To her absolute credit, both were designed by Hannah.

Tim said the EVM was a great little coach, superb in fact. It was replaced with a newer example last year. A second coach arrived in 2017 in the form of a new Yutong TC9 which was superseded in 2023 with a 36-seat, shorted length VIP Irizar. 2018 was the year that saw the arrival of the company’s very first Irizar, Tim always having a liking for the product from his days at Damory Coaches.

The back-up provided by Irizar UK is second to none, said Tim, who also gave mention to Julie Hartley, Irizar’s Sales Director. “2018 was also the start of a formidable journey and a flourishing relationship, which is why we continue to put our faith in both Julie and the product,” Tim said. This aligns with my own belief that people buy from people; when I owned Mortons Travel I was taken on a delightful trip to Spain, hosted by Julie, to view the Irizar factory but which also incorporated some very enjoyable sightseeing, meals and entertainment. I never went on to buy any Irizar coaches purely because the company couldn’t match the product to what I needed at the time. That said, Julie will still always find the time to say hello and it is that genuine feeling of warmth that clearly shines through, and why lasting relationships are formed.

2019, 2021 and most recently 2024 saw the arrival of further band new Irizar i6s, the two short length models being extremely clean second hand examples. The fleet has been painted in Mercedes-Benz Graphite Grey but a departure for the new addition has seen it painted purple with colour-changing vinyls. This is to distinguish it from the main fleet, which is used for the company’s corporate and private hire clients, as the new coach’s intended purpose is its day trip and holiday programme.

The latest Irizar is well appointed, and includes a servery and kitchen area. ADRIAN MORTON

Growing business

Over the last 12 months bookings for holidays and day trips have seen a staggering 455% growth, Tim said, and to the extent that a second coach liveried in purple has been ordered for spring 2025. This however will not be a tri-axle but a 12.2 metre, 42 seater that will offer the same legroom as its larger 50 seat cousin, and will initially be used for day trips.

Thirty-one holidays are planned next year against the 25 being offered this year, with destinations including Ireland and mainland Europe.

Hannah’s neatly designed glossy brochure is produced and left in each seat pocket on board the coaches. The new order of the day is a truly stunning coach with its plush seating, USB charging points, hot drinks facility and food preparation area completed by AD Coach Systems. Passengers also benefit from a much larger toilet cubicle with hot air hand dryer.

The coach won the Boon’s award at this year’s UK Coach Rally for the best co-ordinated décor. Heathside has participated in every UK Coach Rally since 2018, winning several trophies over the years, including best Irizar in 2022. The company was a finalist in 2018, winner in 2023, and is also a nominee for industry awards in 2024 for operator excellence within the coach and bus industry.


Tim clearly loves what he does and that shies through to the everyday operation. He is very complimentary of his staff, Tim and Hannah viewing them as ambassadors of the company. “They are treated like one of the family so if they’re not happy, the customers won’t be happy. Our staff work with us, not for us,” Tim summed up. That ethos is clearly paying dividends as all of the drivers I noticed were very smartly attired in three-piece suits, were lovingly cleaning their vehicles, and looked visibly happy to be there.

A recent recruit is Jo, who has been taken on to assist Hannah in the office; Tim says she is a breath of fresh air and it already feels like she has been there for years. This has allowed Tim and Hannah to step back a little, to concentrate on growing the business and do what they do best.

Soon it was time for Tim to collect his son from school and for me to start heading north to catch my train to London. From the pictures Tim showed me, the next generation is clearly looking forward to being part of the journey.

In less than eight years Tim has built a highly successful business with a fleet of six stunning vehicles, and I very much look forward to catching up on progress in the years to come. If I were to put money on it, I’d expect to see next year’s new delivery glistening on the promenade at the 2025 UK Coach Rally in Blackpool. As I headed up the motorway it was nice to see one of the company’s Irizars heading back towards Bournemouth, most likely having been serving a cruise ship and its clients at Southampton port, and that concluded what had been a most enjoyable day at Heathside Travel.

Two of Heathside’s Irizars, in purple and grey versions of its livery, sandwich a similar coach from Blakes as they line up to take part in the driving tests at the 2024 UK Coach Rally. JONATHAN WELCH