Former homeless man becomes London’s happiest bus driver – and thanks Islington charity for helping turn his life around
PUBLISHED: 17:30 02 January 2019 | UPDATED: 14:49 03 January 2019
The man voted “London’s happiest bus driver” has thanked the charity that gave him a chance after he spent years homeless on the streets.
Pat Lawson of Finsbury Park won Transport for London’s (TfL) outstanding customer service award at the 2018 London Bus Awards – but not that long ago things were very different for him.
Originally from Hackney, Pat was street homeless and in hostels for years and sold the Big Issue around King’s Cross.
He was eventually referred to Islington charity Single Homeless Project (SHP) and with its help retrained as a bus driver, and was given a chance to turn his life around. Today, he can be found driving the 26 bus from Waterloo to Hackney Wick.
He explained: “I’ve been homeless, I’ve been in prison, I’ve been an addict.
“I often thought: ‘How did I get here?’ SHP believed in me. If it wasn’t for them, I’d still be on benefits. Now I’m a tax-paying citizen. My support worker, Amanda, was continually on my case, and gave me the push forward I needed. She believed in me before I believed in myself.
“Work is so much better and more fulfilling – you put more in and you get more back.”
Pat, 50, is loved by his passengers for greeting people as they board and delivering messages in the style of a pilot or train driver.
He scooped the TfL award after 45 commendations from passengers, and was also nominated for top London bus driver at the UK Bus Awards.
“People always ask why I’m so happy,” said Pat. “It’s just if I’m not smiling or talking to people, I’m miserable.
“It’s a conscious decision to do more every day, to sort my face out. I just want people to get on my bus to lower their guard, smile and have a good time.
“Sometimes I say: ‘Good morning’ and people look like they are going to fall off the bus in surprise!
“People seem to enjoy it more, talk between them. I want to enhance their journey.”
SHP has a new project, Achieving Potential, which works with landlords and employers to offer workshops and one-to-one support, helping people into work and giving them the skills to manage their own home. Over the next three years, it wants to help 1,800 homeless Londoners. But it needs willing landlords and employers who will offer placements and jobs. It also needs cash donations for everything from interview clothes to travel expenses and deposits.
CEO Liz Rutherfoord said: “London is in the grip of a crisis, with one in 52 Londoners now homeless.
“Spiralling rents and a reluctance among landlords to let properties to homeless or socially excluded people mean it can be extremely difficult to get a foothold.
“Our research shows 70 per cent of our clients want a job – but without additional specialist support, only four per cent will succeed.
“It’s the classic ‘catch 22’ of homelessness - without a job, you can’t get a home, but without a stable address, the right skills or a recent employment history, no employer will look at you.
“We’ve shown that people can and do recover from homelessness, but we urgently need to scale up so we can help more people like Pat move on with their lives.”