By Andy Lewis – Assistant Headteacher at St Bonaventure’s School, East London. Andy has worked with Citizens UK for 4 years, with the Newham alliance. Find him on Twitter at @andylewis_re
For around 6 years, St Bonaventure’s school, a Catholic School in Forest Gate East London had tried to engage our local bus companies to sort out an issue with one of our local bus routes. The buses sometimes departed early (meaning students missed the bus), or late, or just didn’t turn up. Only one bus would stop and so it became very overcrowded at times.
The route is a school service that picks up students from our school, and our sister girls’ school, St Angela’s. However the published departure time for the bus that started nearest us was 3.30pm – just 5 minutes after the end of school. The other two buses that started at St Angela’s were already packed when they departed and didn’t stop as they went past. Tomas, one of our students on the organising team, used to have to run outside straight after school and he still often missed the bus along with many others.
After an extensive listening campaign with our newly formed Year 8 organising team in autumn 2018, it was clear that many students felt anxious about their journeys home due to a variety of reasons, grooming, fear of assault as in winter it gets very dark and more.The 678 bus came up a number of times as an issue.
The 13 year old students then planned their meeting and invited in the Engagement Manager from Stagecoach London and a TFL Partnership Advisor. However when they arrived they were quite shocked that Tomas, a Year 8 student was chairing and leading the meeting, he welcomed them, explained who he was and offered them a seat.
They listened to the problems and promised to come to the bus stop to see what happens in action. They quickly agreed there was a problem and would find a solution. They proposed alterations to the timetable so that drivers would not leave as quickly, and address the departures from St Angela’s so that students who missed the first bus would be picked up. The bus leaves just 5 mins later so Tomas doesn’t have to run for it anymore.
The students also got a clear understanding of how TFL works – the very high cost of adding a new bus, why timetable changes need to take time, and how the services are run and monitored. TFL invited them to visit the main control centre in Southwark which was an incredible experience for the students.
Since this initial meeting, there have been far few problems with this bus route. Students are happier and more confident knowing they will get home safely.
We have also developed our relationship with TFL and are now involved with their STARS ambassador scheme. After years of the school trying to fix the issue, by getting students involved, they were able to articulate their issue with real authenticity, demand a quick and suitable fix, and continue to monitor and feedback on the changes.
They have developed a skill set and expertise way beyond their years. They have learnt how to run meetings with professional adults, making requests, and following up on these. They have been organised, strategic and uncompromising (but reasonable) in their asks! Telling their own story and articulating why this is important to them has enabled them to build meaningful relationships and bring about change.
This is a fantastic example of why community organising is an important part of our school life and why we work with Citizens UK. The win here is small but, negotiating positive change is a life skill, one that may well be transferable when young people are faced with housing, employment or any other issue students face in later life. They are change makers, determined to improve their lives and that of their communities.