If you’ve read our regular ‘My London Story’ feature in the free Time Out London magazine or online, you’ll know that there’s no end of fascinating, inspiring people in this city of ours. From activists to hairdressers, mermaids to hedge-trimmers and aviators to refugees, we’ve met some incredible Londoners this year. Here are a few of the best.
‘Growing up in Hackney, I didn’t have the easiest start to life. My dad wasn’t around and I got mixed up with the wrong crowd. When I was 16, my brother and I were taken in by social services. By the time I was 21 I had already been in and out of prison, started taking hard drugs and become homeless.
Being on the streets was tough, frightening and cold. I found out about nearby soup runs thanks to The Pavement, a free magazine for rough sleepers. I’d go to day centres at 6am for showers, spend a few hours there, walk to a soup kitchen and then on to the next place.
For eight years, I went to church and tried to change my life, but I had to stop going when I felt that certain people were trying to control me. The only way I knew how to survive was to go back to my old life. Soon enough I had lost the place I was staying in, was back on drugs and ended up back behind bars.
After I came out of prison, I became a Big Issue vendor in Russell Square and Mayfair. After living in a hostel for a year and a half, I got the keys to an assured tenancy in Islington. Finally, I was referred to the Single Homeless Project charity. They gave me a wonderful support worker, Amanda, who believed in me before I could even believe in myself. And she was the one who referred me to HCT Group, a social enterprise that was offering me the opportunity to train as a bus driver.
I was scared! I hadn’t driven for 13 years, my licence had expired and I was worried about my criminal record. But it wasn’t long before I got all the qualifications I needed. In 2017, I became a full-time bus driver on the Number 26 route from Hackney to Waterloo.
‘I promised myself that I would greet every single passenger’
Photograph: Alex Grace
I promised myself before my first day behind the wheel that I would greet every single passenger, and I’ve kept my promise – although some do look at me strangely! I try to make my passengers’ journeys as happy as I can. And they seem to appreciate it: last year, I was shortlisted for the Top London Bus Driver prize at the UK Bus Awards and I received 66 commendations from the public. I was officially named “London’s happiest bus driver”, which feels wonderful.
For 20 years, I was either homeless on the streets, in a hostel or in prison. So now I put on my uniform in the morning each day with pride. I’m glad my mother got to see me as a new person before she passed away. And I’ve learned that there are people out there that recognise some people want to change, and that having a criminal record doesn’t mean the end.’
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