LONG-DISTANCE lorry driving is a demanding job – the average working week is 48 hours of driving, which can be extended to up to 60 hours and and with over a third of all drivers feeling they are not being treated well by the companies they drive for it can be isolated and frustrating work for the 318,700 HGV drivers currently employed in the UK.

"Being a trucker is stressful and lonely with some pretty strict deadlines to meet," agrees Islwyn Jones, one of the organisers of the North Wales Truck Gathering, which comes to Caerwys this weeks.

"When the only time you speak to someone else is when you meet them at the truck stop it can be difficult so to have a social gathering like this is important for both the truckers and their families."

Organised by a small group of truck drivers and friends, the event was first established in 2011 by three local drivers, Ian 'Ferrit' Williams, Arwyn 'Smiley' Jones and Phil 'Topper' Hazel (nicknames is a big thing in the trucking community). The initial idea was to organise a show for the trucking family and friends to come together, with support given by sponsors, friends and of course the understanding wives. The first show was small but a success and what we know today as the North Wales Truck Gathering was born.

Finding its home at a convenient site just off the A55 at Caerwys where large vehicles can easily access the space without congesting local villages, the site also has ample car parking spaces and allocated disabled parking.

"We're anticipating around 200 vehicles in attendance for the public to admire along with trade stalls, various charity stalls and a big selection of food stalls," explains Islwyn. "We also have a children's area where we have a fun fair, play bus and various other children's activities and stalls.

"A few of the well-known manufacturers will also be in attendance allowing people to view brand new vehicles and sit inside them to see what life is really for a truck driver and also see some of the latest trucks to hit the North Wales roads."

Among those appearing will be Deeside Trucks who will provide a hospitality stand, displaying a next generation Scania truck, and a Kelsa hospitality trailer. The showground will also feature custom trucks, and themed airbrushed cabs.

The event also raises money for local charities and last year the Gathering raised £7,500 which was split equally between Ty Gobaith and Alaw Ward Ysbyty Gwynedd. This year the truckers have chosen 4Louis, a local stillbirth charity and Blood Bikes Wales, who provide a fantastic service in North Wales and beyond.

"Saturday evening will also see the gathering host live entertainment by the singer Paul Kelly at our onsite licensed bar," says Islwyn, who is also keen to stress that no driver is allowed to sound his horn during the gathering. "Saturday night is a real highlight with the largest display of its kind in North Wales known as 'The Truck Lights at Night' display where all the vehicles onsite put on their lights making it look like Blackpool illuminations!"

Roads continue to be the primary method of transporting freight within the UK. In 2015, just over three quarters (76%) of all goods moved were by road, with the remainder by water (15%) and rail (9%).

But according to some figures, the industry faces an uncertain future in terms of recruitment with haulage associations estimating there's a current shortfall of 45,000-60,000 drivers, with another 40,000 due to leave the industry. A lack of diversity means only 8% of the 400,000 qualified drivers are women and there are also moves to come up with plans to attract more people from ethnic minority backgrounds after it was reported in 2010 that only 3% of the road haulage workforce in England was from a Black, Asian or minority ethnic background. Add in the fact that more than 60% of LGV drivers are aged 45 years or over (compared with 35% in the general working age population) and only about 1% of LGV drivers are under 25 and it's clear something needs to be done.

Chair of the Transport Committee, Louise Ellman MP, said:"This is not a new challenge. The road haulage sector has been short of skilled drivers for the last ten years. The familiar profile of the professional driver – over 45, white and male – will need to adapt.

"Industry and Government need to get their heads together and come up with a plan which focusses on recruitment and retention.

"After years of under-investment in the sector, let's encourage skilled drivers back into their cabs by improving the image of the profession, revisiting pay and conditions and providing proper and secure facilities at depots and on the roadside.

"Who are the drivers of the future? Let's look to female drivers, young drivers and BAME drivers, currently under-represented in the sector. Government and industry should review apprenticeships, reduce training costs and insurance, and demonstrate clear career progression.

"If people are unwilling to work in the sector, it is up to industry and Government to change perceptions. Almost everything we use in our daily lives has, at some point, been transported by a large goods vehicle. UK PLC relies on them."

Islwyn agrees and hopes events like the North Wales Truck Gathering can hope improve the image of drivers and encourage people to find out about driving as a career.

"Drivers get a lot of stick but we rely on trucks so much - everything travels by lorry at some point," he adds. "If we can raise the profile and image of drivers and raise some money for charity at the same time than that is perfect."

For further information and tickets (Adults: £5, Children: £3, Families: £15, under 5s go free) go to www.northwalestruckgathering.co.uk or visit the event's Facebook page.