When is a bus not a bus?

When we first talked about the Know your Bus strand of this project, all of us had visions of an old double decker bus. Kitted out with our gear and decorated with the Know your Bristol theme, we’d happily trundle around Bristol, setting up wherever our communities are. Unfortunately, reality doesn’t always work like that. We soon realised that buying an old bus was a little beyond our budget (the AHRC would undoubtedly agree) and hiring one would be tricky given what we wanted to use it for. Thankfully we remembered that the University has an HGV that was initially bought as a Mobile Teaching Unit for medical students. Whilst it mostly languished out at the Vet School, it still saw occasional use for outreach with schools. But here was a resource already owned by the University that could readily be revamped for our purpose, even if it’s not quite as glamorous as we’d imagined.

lorry - small

Our first challenge has been coming up with a design for the outside that reflects the purpose of the lorry and the breadth of use. After all, it’s still being used by the School of Physiology and Pharmacology as a mobile classroom for outreach to primary schools. We also wanted something inclusive enough for other groups in the University to consider options for using it in their engagement activities. Dirty Design, who developed the design for our booklet, were up to the task and created a set of concepts. The one we’ve gone for in the end is a stylised map of Bristol, which we think links nicely to the themes of Know your Bristol.


The next stage was revamping the interior of the lorry, which has been a much easier task. Most of the equipment in the lorry is readily moved, including the model skeleton that currently resides in a corner. The exception is the anatomy table that was originally designed for dissection (whether it’s actually seen any action is debatable). Conveniently, it is the perfect size for our digitisation equipment so we will have Jamie happily taking archive quality images where you would normally expect to see someone wielding a scalpel. With some blackout blinds and a number of other props, we should be able to use the space flexibly, from showcasing material and films to collecting stories and co-creating knowledge. It will also allow us to provide tea and cake on the move – the fuel on which our project runs.

Unfortunately the one variable we didn’t consider was the narrowness of Bristol’s roads and the not-so-narrow turning circle of the lorry. Our first attempt to use it at our event in Bedminster came to nothing when we realised it wouldn’t make it round the corner by the park – thankfully in advance of the event and without any damage to surrounding infrastructure. But we have a number of events in the autumn which will feature the lorry and where we still continue to call it a bus, despite all evidence to the contrary. So don’t be surprised if you see it meandering around your part of Bristol sometime soon, assuming it can get down the road in the first place.