Go North East (GNE) is partnering with the Alzheimer’s Society to pledge that every new driver will have to become a Dementia Friend before driving in service. The Go-Ahead subsidiary, the region’s largest operator, has also promised that every one of its 1,600 drivers will become a Dementia Friend within the next five years, helping to transform the way people think, act and talk about dementia. Launch: (l-r) Jim Dunn, Rachael Hall, Bernard McLaughlin, Natasha Tanner and Michael HandyAlready 220 drivers have completed the information session. A Dementia Friend learns about what it’s like to live with the condition and turns that understanding into action.There are 30,000 people living with dementia in the north-east. This initiative is part of GNE’s commitment to providing inclusive travel and tourism within the North East. GNE encourages staff to become volunteer Dementia Friends champions, enabling them to deliver information sessions about dementia to drivers across its nine depots.It is part of a mental health module within GNE’s Disability Awareness DCPC course. Other modules include legislation, company policy, sight guidance (in association with the RNIB), mobility (which covers the company’s easy access guarantee) and hearing loss. Alzheimer’s Society’s Dementia Friends programme is the biggest-ever initiative to change people’s perceptions of dementia. It aims to transform the way the nation thinks, talks and acts about the condition.Joe Kirwin, Dementia Friends Officer at Alzheimer’s Society said: “It’s all about learning more about dementia and the small ways you can help. From getting in touch with someone you know living with dementia, to wearing your badge with pride, every action counts.”Stephen King, Head of Commercial and Retail said: “We are passionate about never standing still when it comes to achieving excellence in accessibility and this partnership-led initiative with Dementia Friends is incredibly important to us.“As the region’s largest bus operator we have a responsibility to ensure that our front-line staff understand the condition. “By committing to making all drivers Dementia Friends we aim to provide reassurance to those living with dementia that they can count on a safe and comfortable journey when travelling with us. “With this step we also hope to play a significant role in eliminating the feelings of loneliness and social exclusion that those with dementia can feelGo North East operates in the cities of Newcastle, Durham and Sunderland; across Northumberland, Tyne and Wear, County Durham and into Tees Valley.Around 200,000 people use Go North East bus services every day.It employs 2,100 local people to run 700 buses and coaches and its annual turnover is £100m.