Competing with Loneliness

HCT - 1Most of this week and much of this year I’ve been working with a bus company. No ordinary bus company, though. Rather one that can state confidently and clearly that “We are the world’s leading transport social enterprise.” More importantly, they say this:

“Outside of our explicitly commercial contracts, our competitors are not other bus companies. Our competitors are social exclusion, loneliness and social isolation.”

Having spent time with HCT Group’s front line staff in Bristol and in Leeds, this week we arrived in Hackney, where the organisation was born as Hackney Community Transport in 1982.

Now Hackney Community transport has grown into a much bigger operation.

Now Hackney Community Transport has grown into a much bigger operation.

And I’m here at Ash Grove in Hackney having a look round with bus drivers and other HCT Group people from London, Bristol, Leeds, Wakefield and the Channel Islands. Though as you’ll hear later we come from many more places than that in reality.

The group, as you'll understand, are very interested in buses.

The group, as you’ll understand, are very interested in buses.

The whole issue of how they work is taken very seriously.

The whole issue of how they work is taken very seriously.

"Look at this. You could make a whole bus from out of this room!"

Down to the smallest detail.

Ash Grove ids HCT Group's biggest depot.

Ash Grove is HCT Group’s biggest depot.

And Tony from Bristol is duly fascinated.

And everyone is duly fascinated.

But though we could discuss the finer points of repairing a bus engine all day, HCT are, as you’ll remember from the headline, about much more than running buses. They’re about competing with loneliness, social exclusion and social isolation. In Bristol we’d seen them doing this work with groups of children and the elderly. And in Leeds we’d taken part in their Travel Training, which gets excluded young adults out onto public transport and opens up the city and their lives. Here we’re not only hearing about their Scootability Programme…

We're having a go on it!

We’re having a go on it!

HCT - 9 HCT - 10

With only occasional mishaps.

With only occasional mishaps.

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Then we’re back into the mechanics and technology of running red bus routes in London.

All monitired and directed from here in Ash Grove.

All monitored and directed from here in Ash Grove.

Next morning we're off out into the streets of Hackney.

Next morning we’re off out into the streets of Hackney.

In some cases the gentrifying streets of Hackney.

In some cases the gentrifying streets of Hackney.

To one of HCT's longest running partnerships.

To one of HCT’s longest running partnerships.

Hackney City Farm has spent 30 years being all about education, sustainability and “Showing children that chickens are more than just nuggets.”

It's an oasis here in the middle of the rapid developments of the East End.

It’s an oasis here in the middle of the rapid developments of the East End.

HCT - 19 HCT - 20 HCT - 21 HCT - 22 HCT - 23 HCT - 24Later on Dai Powell, HCT Group’s Chief Executive, will reminisce about his early days as a volunteer when one of his jobs was to muck out the HCT mini bus after Hackney City Farm’s pigs had been transported in it.

Before long Victor, me and the rest are waiting for a bus.

Before long we’re all waiting for a bus.

3

No ordinary bus this one. It’s the 812 and runs around the side streets of Islington on a route designed by the people who use it.

We get on and talk to the passengers who tell us things like "This is my lifeline. Without this bus I'd never get out of the house."

We get on and talk to the passengers who tell us things like “This is my lifeline. Without this bus I’d never get out of the house.”

Well done you 812.

Well done you 812.

Next it's back to the HCT Group head office in Curtain Road to swop ideas and opiniond with Chief Executuve Dai Powell.

Next it’s back to the HCT Group head office in Curtain Road to swop ideas and opinions with Chief Executive Dai Powell.

After which we all go out for dinner with Dai and Deputy Chief Executive Jude Winter. Jude hasn’t met the whole group before and so asks where everyone is from – “No, really from?”

This is the collective answer she gets:

“From Bulgaria via Guernsey, from Manchester and Yorkshire to Jersey, from India to London, Barbados to Hackney, Leeds and always Leeds, Nigeria to Hackney and Wolverhampton, from Leeds via the Norman Conquest, East Africa from Asia to Bristol, Greenock to Jersey, Reading to Oxford to Bristol, India to Uganda then Hackney via Gillingham, to Dewsbury from a small village outside of Islamabad in Pakistan, from Mongolia to here”

We are, in short, from nearly everywhere.

And in the morning we arrive in Stratford. Where HCT ran the buses during the construction of the Olympics 2012 site.

And in the morning we arrive in Stratford. Where HCT ran the buses during the construction of the Olympics 2012 site.

To see the parts of the former site now run, for the people of London, by another social enterprise.

Two of the country's biggest social enterprises.

Two of the country’s biggest social enterprises.

In one magnificent place.

In one magnificent place.

All the profits made by both social enterprises reinvested in what they do and, yes, in competing with loneliness, exclusion and isolation.

At the Copper Box, our time together nearly over.

At the Copper Box, our time together nearly over.

An HCT red bus back to the tube.

An HCT red bus back to the tube.

Time for some final photos on the Southbank.

Time for some final photos on the Southbank.

And into Coin Street, another social enterprise.

And into Coin Street, another social enterprise.

To talk about what we've learned and what we think.

To talk about what we’ve learned and what we think.

With HCT Group senior staff.

With HCT Group senior staff.

And shake hands with Dai at their 2015 Impact Report launch.

And shake hands with Dai at their 2015 Impact Report launch.

Thank you, all of you. It’s been an adventure and a pleasure. Particular thanks to Tracey Vickers of HCT, my co-creator in the HCT Group Social Enterprise Champions programme.

And of course to all this group of Social Enterprise Champions: Jonathan Cawthray, Peter Herridge, Khizar Iqbal, Ferhin Master, Martin McKinney, Georgi Monev, Sam O’Neill, Victor Onokah, Cheryl Paul, Mo Saddique, Enkh Sergelen, Rakshaben Thakore and Tony Trimby.

You can read the full HCT Group 2015 Impact Report here.

3 thoughts on “Competing with Loneliness

  1. Pak

    Their description of themselves sounds a bit arrogant. But looks like you had fun down on the farm, Ron?

    Reply
      1. Pak

        I might have mistyped the message,Ron. I meant their description of their competitors as being no good.

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