NSSM Guest Post from Once Upon a Bus

In this week’s guest posts for National Share a Story Month, we will be hearing about three very different, but equally inspirational projects, each of which involves sharing stories on buses! In the first, Arti Sharma-Grey, explains how she and her husband Matt came up with and developed the idea for their wonder-filled Storytelling Bus.

Picture this: A sparkling double-decker bus is parked in a school playground, a class of children climb aboard, not to go on a physical journey, but instead to be taken on a trip through the imagination!

Once Upon a Bus is certainly no ordinary bus; beautifully customised to exacting standards, the interior space is an “ambient cocoon” that transports children into a magical world of storytelling. Imagine being led through Wonderland by Alice on the top deck and then plunged into the deep depths of the Earth’s oceans down on the lower deck!

My husband Matt and I came up with the idea for the Storytelling Bus Project in September 2013 shortly after taking voluntary redundancy after many years working in the IT industry (storyboarding presentations and delivering them to customers). I had previously worked in the Care industry (working with special needs children and running a homeless project in Berkshire) and had a long standing love of public speaking, debating, creative drama and reading to groups. Having two young children allowed me to indulge these passions. “Storytelling” was always my forte, at work and play, so I took a plunge and also began storytelling in Schools. The feedback was good, and I wanted to do more, but we also felt something was missing. So we opened a bottle of wine (or two) and brainstormed the problem and possible solutions. Matt has been working in the creative industries for over 20 years and has an established design consultancy, together we came up with some great concepts; “What if we built our own venue?”, “What if we could take our venue to customers?”, “What about a venue on wheels, a mobile project that we could take on the Road?”

We set to task researching our ideas and looked at many busses that had been converted into soft play environments. We spoke to a lot of people but we were looking for someone special. And then Fate played its helping hand as I happened across a company called “Qualiti Conversions” in Southampton and spoke to a very enthusiastic and knowledgeable gentleman there whose name was… Robin Hood! With this happy coincidence we set the wheels in motion and in December 2013 purchased a school bus that was being retired from service; a Volvo Olympian which had originally been a Dublin service bus clocking many hundreds of thousands of miles during its history.

red bus

It took 6 months to reinvent and convert the Bus with many design challenges and technical obstacles along the way. With Matt scratching his head for endless long nights, we eventually overcame the limitations of the space and, working with such a reputable and capable firm as Qualiti, we finally produced a most magnificent machine.

The vehicle has been designed to provide distinct spaces that engage key activities, to promote both the desire and the ability to learn. State-of-the-art technology and visual projections provide “immersive experiences”, that entertain, captivate and inspire our audiences, without ever compromising the “real-world”, face-to-face environment and traditional storytelling values that underpin our vision.

The top deck of the Bus accommodates a classroom size of 35 children. Adults accompanying children have use of a seating area at the back of the upper deck (the book corner) which can seat 10 adults. The Bus has “stained glass” windows which allow natural light to create a sensory and stimulating environment. The bus has a large screen which we use to project moving footage giving the children the impression that they are actually moving through the environment. The downstairs of the Bus is our ‘Sensory Room’ which can also be used to accommodate children with special education needs. They are able to experience the upper deck storytelling unfold via a dedicated audio/visual system.


The Bus is self-sufficient, with its own toilet, kitchen area and an internal generator that allows it to be powered wirelessly when there is no access to an external power supply. It has a custom built air conditioning system that keeps the Bus cool in Summer, warm in Winter. A CCTV System records all activities in and around the Bus, with externally mounted monitors that show what is going on inside. We have a 4 meter automated awning which provides shelter whilst children are entering the Bus.

Once Upon a Bus officially launched on May the 10th 2014 with a free public event. We had an incredible response from the local community and were privileged to have the generous support of Paul Daniels and “the lovely” (she really is!) Debbie McGee, who cut the ribbon and launched the project. It was estimated over 1000 people came, which was just amazing, so motivating!

paul_daniels_opens_onceuponabus (2)

Since the launch Once Upon a Bus has gone from strength to strength. Our service now delivers a wide range of entertaining educational activities to children and an opportunity for their parent/carers to engage in a positive and productive social environment. Once Upon a Bus’s main focus is to service schools. We provide tailor-made experiences to support project themes, specific genres/authors and every aspect of the National Curriculum. Sessions are tailored for each school dependent on group sizes. We have been able to cater for a school of 420 pupils with 20 minute workshops spread over a school day. Children interact throughout and are always encouraged to read parts of the story where they can.


We are regularly booked to help with Fundraising events at schools and companies and we are really looking forward to providing our service at the Royal Hampton Court Flower Show later this Summer.


Matt and I write and perform our own original scripts using a variety of mixed media including puppetry, role play, music, film and special effects, in an engaging and interactive space, to learn about and explore the many facets of language and communication, through simple, traditional “storytelling”.

The beauty of the Bus is that it is so adaptable to transformation. We have turned the Bus into Alice’s Wonderland, The Deep Ocean, Outer Space, A Witches Cavern and a Yuletide Grotto and we look forward to creating many more themes.

Find us on Facebook and Twitter @onceuponabus or to hear more of the story, call us direct on 07912 101 619

The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the Federation of Children’s Book Groups.

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