All Aboard the Big Red Bus - TotsUp

How the journey started

Some years ago, when I first began working freelance, I wanted a part time job to go alongside my then new venture. I loved the self employed work I was doing with Graphic Design but quickly realised that it involved spending a lot of time on my own. So, in order to avoid reclusion and to preserve my sanity, I decided to look for a part-time job, which involved some sort of interaction.

No sooner had I began looking I found a job which I now look back on with huge fondness, and which gave me purpose and fulfilment beyond anything I could have expected. Somehow, with absolutely no experience or working with children or understanding of ABA, I became a part time ABA (Applied Behavioural Analysis) tutor for a three year old boy with Autism. Little did I know at the interview that working with that little boy with the most perfect face and the sweetest smile would have such an impact on me, and that twenty years later, his mum would still be one of my most favourite people to have a glass of wine and put the world to rights with.

The ABA model focuses on positive behavioural intervention and the reward chart is fundamental to this. As this little chap began to tire of sticky stars and smiley faces, I devised a series of alternative charts, based around some of the things he loved. As a Graphic Designer this was a labour of love and the fact they worked really well was only a bonus.

Fast forward twenty years and my first born, Ben, was amidst the dreaded potty training stage. As I stood cheering in the bathroom at my gorgeous boy perched precariously on the potty, smiling gleefully at my delight, there was a familiarity from my ABA days when cheering, whooping, and filling a reward chart went hand in hand. I dug out the files and Ben loved these novelties, and as he and I celebrated his toileting achievements, an idea was born.

The red bus was a firm favourite, and the passengers became my best friends as we battled bedtimes, bath times, tantrums and meltdowns. After a couple of friends complimented the charts and asked where they were from, I began to see the potential of the red bus. Intensive research followed, as did another little blue bundle – baby Joseph.

Two years later, I found myself sat nervously at Torre Abbey, Torquay, on the School for Startups course. Despite having been successfully self-employed for many years, I had no experience of the complexities presented by product design and manufacturing. Three days of intensive study, and lots of homework over six weeks opened my eyes to the possibilities of developing my idea, and introduced me to some lovely like-minded people. One evening, on my way home, as I stood in a supermarket queue, after a particularly gruelling day of elevator pitches, I watched a mum in front of me in familiar negotiations with a fractious toddler and it dawned on me. An accompanying App – that was what the red bus needed. I had often taken my printed bus out in my bag to ensure timely rewards for good behaviour, but an App seemed a far better solution.


I still needed to be sure there was a genuine market niche to fill, and if it were to be a saleable product the bus needed considerable development. Months passed and surveys, focus groups, and feasibility studies took place – slowly things began to take shape.

A chance discovery of the business card of an Educational Psychologist in my local village shop led to generous and invaluable input (and many lovely Saturday morning chats over a cappuccino!), and introductions to professionals willing to test and review the reward chart followed.

I was so fortunate to be introduced to Amalgam Model Makers in Bristol, and appointed a fantastic project manger who was a joy to work with, and completely shared my vision for the red bus. It was even more fortunate that she understood materials, polarity(?!), and had buckets of patience, as designs were modified, tweaked, and my complete lack of technical understanding revealed. The excitement as I was presented with a working prototype of a 3D, magnetic, beautifully finished bus was immeasurable.

This project has been full of delightful coincidences and lovely people. The support and encouragement I have received from family, friends and colleagues, has been astounding and quite humbling. I have had creative input from some of the Design students I now teach, lots of sticky little fingers have tested the product, and many kind mummies have given up their time to discuss and review over coffee and cake. Others have happily appeared in my promotional film and helped start to spread the word.

There’s a long way to go yet as I approach the Crowdfunding launch, development of the App, and beyond, but the Big Red Bus has been on one amazing journey so far – long may it continue.

For more information, please send me an email, I would be happy to chat.

  • Victoria (Lylia Rose)

    What a fabulous story. The bus has been a great success with Bella this week and I’m sure it will help many other parents too. Such an effective idea 🙂

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