Doing the work you love, on the buses

Apart from going on scenic walks and being opinionated about all things Liverpool, a lot of the work we actually get paid for is around people doing work that they love. And a lot of that is concerned with social enterprises. It’s easier to love the work if your enterprise is doing some good in the world, as well as bringing in the profits it needs to keep it going.

We’ve been working with social enterprises for over fifteen years now. Helping them to generate new ideas that will make them even better social enterprises and even better places to work with and work in.

And this year and last year we’ve been doing this work on buses.

HCT Group, originally Hackney Community Transport, are a large social enterprise bus company. They compete for routes all over the country with big commercial companies like Arriva and First, often merging with local community transport operations to do so.

Then once they win routes in an area, the deal is that the profits they then make stay in the area. None of them go to shareholders, because HCT doesn’t have any. Instead at least 33% of all profits go into supporting community activities in that area, often through community transport services that community groups couldn’t otherwise afford. And the rest of the profits are reinvested into maintaining the buses and buying new ones. Did you know, for example, that a new double-decker bus costs £100,000?

This year, HCT people in Somerset.

HCT run ten red bus routes in London, and are also operating in Leeds, Wakefield, Hull, Bristol, Guernsey, and with Jersey to come in the new year. They also run hospital transport in London, as well as buses for workers on the Olympics site.

And they have 800 people work for them. Thing is, most of these people haven’t been with them since the year dot when they were a plucky little community transport company with a couple of mini-buses in Hackney. They mostly transfer over from other bus companies when HCT win routes. And so arrive into HCT knowing little or nothing about social enterprise, and why they might have arrived at a better place than they were working before.

Second year’s cohort, with Chief Executive Dai Powell, centre of back row.

So that’s been our job, on the buses, these last two years. To take a group of around 20 drivers and passenger assistants each year on a programme of visits and events. To learn from some of the best social enterprises in the country, and help to make HCT an even better social enterprise and their own jobs more rewarding and fulfilling. Dai Powell, HCT’s Chief Executive (who has been there since the year dot etc) has a theory that if we get 10% of the people there clued up like this, then they’ll have a proper social enterprise culture, with plenty of people skilled up and opinionated up about why they’re so much more than an ordinary bus company.

It’s been a joy.

Each year the group are as mixed as you could imagine. London graduates of HCT’s ‘Women into the bus industry’ programme mixing with ex-rugby league players from Hunslet. Both years have begun quietly and almost cynically. (‘What on earth’s this?’) And both have ended up producing a group of close friends from all over the country who are passionate about the possibilities for social enterprise, as a better way of doing business.

Both programmes have contained an event, just before the end of the programme, which is more reflective than the visits events. To allow people time to reflect on what they’ve learned, as well as experience something very different and new. Last year we camped in Lincolnshire. This year we stayed at a camping barn in Somerset.

Deep in thought, camping at Hill Holt Wood last year.

Yes, that’s right, it’s also about us doing the work we love. We got paid to take people camping.

And then the year ends at the RSA in London, a grand event where HCT produce their Social Impact Report for the year, to show exactly what good they’ve done in the world this year. And the new Social Enterprise Champions, the graduates of the programme with us, get to talk about their experiences in becoming one of HCT’s social impacts themselves.

After their year ends HCT involve the Champions in all kinds of ways. Briefing new starters, showing visitors around, going to new area where HCT is setting up and telling the new people about social enterprise. They’ve done photography, design and also been part of mentoring the people who come on the next year’s programme.

And one afternoon this summer, I was walking through Hackney when a double decker bus stopped at the side of me. And before I knew it the driver had jumped off the bus and was giving me a big hug. It was Jo, one of the ‘Women into the bus industry’ people from the first year! That sort of thing doesn’t happen every day does it?

Here, finally, is a film summing up the whole of this year’s programme.

And at the 2012 Social Enterprise awards HCT won the award for ‘Evidence of Impact’ – their social impact including this work with the Champions.

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