To mark Mental Health Awareness Week last week, Govia Thameslink Railway is shining a light on how caring colleagues go above and beyond to help some of the most vulnerable in their time of need.
Every day, colleagues working across GTR's Thameslink, Great Northern, Gatwick Express and Southern routes make sure passengers complete their journeys safely, and they are quick to raise the alarm when they notice someone in distress or behaving unusually.
GTR's vision is for 'Zero Harm' on the railway with one life lost being one too many. Last year at least 327 potentially life-saving interventions took place, where colleagues have talked to someone they believe to be at risk. The train operator has been training colleagues to approach vulnerable people and as a result has seen a 57% increase in potentially life-saving approaches. This year, 45 interventions have taken place so far.
GTR's Suicide Prevention Manager Laura Campbell said: "This is a very challenging time for all of us, and we acknowledge that everyone at some stage during this pandemic could feel vulnerable. For all our passengers, we want to show that we're with them and we recognise how important it is that our colleagues are equipped with the skills to help vulnerable people." Laura added: "GTR has also ensured a greater focus on the health and wellbeing of all its colleagues during this time with an enhanced programme of activities tailored to some of the challenges we face."
In July last year, GTR implemented its Caring for the Vulnerable course, which was attended by all new starters. The company is now launching the course as an e-learning course for all colleagues this month to provide participants with an understanding of who is a vulnerable person, how to spot them and how to help them if they are need.
In addition to this, GTR aims for all colleagues to take part in a course specially run by the Samaritans, which includes guidance on how to talk to people in distress. So far, more than 1,000 colleagues have taken part.
Before lockdown, the train operator held a ceremony at its London headquarters for 19 colleagues from across the network who had taken potentially life-saving action.
Some colleagues were praised for raising the alarm quickly, resulting in trains running at caution or stopping altogether. In other cases, train drivers, crew or station staff had approached the vulnerable person and encouraged them to a place of safety.
Head of Safety and Environment Mark Whitley, who hosted the ceremony, told the attendees: "This event is a moment to reflect on the amazing actions you have taken to care for the vulnerable. It's amazing to meet real life heroes. You have seen something that doesn't look right and you have stepped in and have shown you care."
Representatives from the Samaritans' Croydon branch also attended the ceremony to talk about the life-saving work of the charity and thank GTR staff for their interventions.
Thameslink colleagues Sara Turner, Jay Singh and Mariya Marinova worked together to help a distressed woman at Luton Airport Parkway station earlier this year. Area Manager Sara, who was off-duty at the time and heading to London for her birthday, spotted the woman who was behaving strangely. Sara said: "She was jumpy and distressed when I approached to see if she was OK."
Sara raised the alarm by contacting Jay, who was supervising the platform and dispatching trains at the time. He alerted the signaller to the situation. Jay approached the woman and tried to speak to her, but she was still refusing to speak. He then called Mariya, a Revenue Control Officer, to see if the woman would open up to her. When she was alone with Mariya, she slowly began to explain her situation and talked about how frightened she was. Mariya, who speaks five languages, took her into a waiting room and they chatted for about half an hour. The colleagues also offered the woman food and water. Mariya said: "Every day you're caring for passengers. There are thousands of people passing through this station every day. I enjoy my job."
Great Northern Passenger Host Team Leader Nathan Bowes, 44, received an award for his intervention at Hitchin station in spring last year. With the help of colleagues, Nathan managed to bring a distressed boy to a safe area. In the submission for Nathan's award, he was praised for his "great understanding" and for making sure everyone involved in the situation was safe. Nathan, who lives in Hitchin, was able to draw on his five years' experience as a volunteer with Samaritans when dealing with this situation. He also made sure a colleague, who had been the first on the scene, was looked after. Speaking of his award, Nathan said: "I was just doing my job, but it is nice to have recognition and a thank you. I don't feel uncomfortable helping people. It happens so often that you see someone and something doesn't look right. Sometimes you see someone crying and you ask if they're OK. Usually they're fine, but you don't know until you ask."
Passenger Hosts Steve Baker and Jon Robinson both received recognition for helping a distressed young man during an intervention at Cambridge earlier this year. Jon, 58, who lives in Cambridge, used a recognised hand signal to alert the drivers of trains ready to leave platforms that there was a problem. With the help of a driver, they managed to get the young man off the track. They then stayed with the young man until the British Transport Police arrived. Father-of-two Steve, who lives in the Cambridge area, said: "We get quite good training in relation to our role, although a lot of it is instinctive in these situations."
Train Driver Robert Knevett, 53, has worked on the railway for 26 years and has been a driver since 1997. He has encountered two fatalities during his railway career and has been involved in many life-saving interventions, the most recent of which were in 2018 and two within a week in 2017. Driver Manager for Gatwick Express Rebecca Hansford said: "In all three of these cases, Bob has answered a final call for help and has been instrumental in saving three people's lives. He is a credit to the Gatwick Express Team and the wider rail family."
Robert, who lives in Haywards Heath, said: "I just see it as part of the job. I'm happy to help and I would rather help than leave it to someone else. My family are proud of what I do and at work they call me 'Bob the log' because if I see something, I ring up and report it. It's nice to gain recognition and a thank you."
Please note that all photos were taken prior to lockdown.