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Festival history

The 2024 South East Bus Festival will be the twelfth in a series of similar events held each year at Kent Showground since 2011, with the exception of 2020 due to the Coronavirus pandemic and 2023 when substantial rain waterlogged the showground.

In the beginning . . .

It all started with an event called 'M&D 100' to celebrate the centenary of the formation on 22nd March 1911 of Arriva's predecessor in Kent, the Maidstone & District Motor Services. In fact the present Arriva Kent & Surrey Ltd company is the original M&D company renamed.

This brought together a large number of former M&D buses and coaches, together with slide shows about the company, talks by two former M&D directors and the event also featured the M&D Reunion Tea Room where former M&D staff could meet up to renew old acquaintances and to reminisce about their time with the company.

Seventy-five vehicles attended the event and a ten-minute free bus service was operated around the showground that was so popular it had to be increased in frequency to cater for demand!

M&D and East Kent 60

The great feedback from visitors to M&D 100 encouraged the three organisers to consider running a similar event in 2012 and the theme taken was the 60th anniversary of The M&D and East Kent Bus Club, established in 1952 to bring together those interested in the Maidstone & District and East Kent bus companies and still thriving with a membership of around 360 in 2023.

As 'M&D 100' had proved to be so popular, the same basic format was offered but with more emphasis on the East Kent Road Car Company as well as M&D and with the Reunion Tea Room being opened up to former East Kent and Maidstone Corporation/Borough Council staff as well.

The number of vehicles attending in 2012 was 98.

Once again there was very positive feedback from a lot of people and it was decided to make the event an annual one. As there was no significant anniversary to celebrate in 2013 the South East Bus Festival title was established as a name that could be used into the future to build on the goodwill and status that had already resulted.

Winning formula

In spite of bitterly cold weather conditions in the weeks leading up to the 2013 event, and on the day, a total of 91 vehicles attended and this significantly increased, to 121, at the 2014 bus festival.

The winning formula of having a mix of static vehicles, frequent bus rides, guest speakers, slide shows and lots of sales stands and model bus displays soon gained the event a good reputation and quickly established it as one of the largest bus events in the country.

Plenty of variety

Over the eleven events that have so far taken place there has been a wide range of vehicles for people to enjoy and, while some have become regular attendees, there have been lots of different buses and coaches taking part over these years and around 54% of the entries at the 2022 festival had not been to the previous ten events.

At the 2015 South East Bus Festival, 113 buses and coaches turned up on the day but that attendance was bettered in 2016 when 126 buses and coaches took part in the festival, seventy of which had not previously been to these events. In 2017 those numbers had increased to 139 and seventy-seven respectively and in 2018 there were 150 entries, again with another seventy-seven that had not attended previously.


The 2019 event bettered both figures, with a total attendance of 154 buses and coaches, of which 79 had not joined us before.


There was no event in 2020 due to the Coronavirus crisis and national lockdowns and the 2021 event that had been planned for April was postponed for the same reason, fortunately taking place on 10th October of that year after the easing of some restrictions.


Numbers of buses and coaches attending were down due to a variety of factors, including the country coming out of Coronavirus restrictions, the time of year and the relatively short notice given of the revised date, but there were still 104 buses and coaches in attendance, many of which ran on the free bus service around the showground and sixty-eight of which had not been to the previous ten events.


Things were back to normal in 2022, with a total of 136 buses and coaches in attendance but weeks of rain in early 2023 left the showground waterlogged and the 2023 festival had to be cancelled as a result.

All welcome, old and new

Although many of the buses on display are preserved, one previous attendee having a chassis that is over 100 years old, the organisers are keen to encourage examples of the latest buses and coaches to be displayed so that members of the public can see how far the industry has transformed over the years and to make a good contrast with the vehicles of yesteryear.

A number of local bus and coach operators have become regular participants in the events.

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