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Patrick Lawson, London's happiest bus driver
Photograph: Alex Grace

How one Londoner beat homelessness to become ‘London's happiest bus driver’

From sleeping rough to being named the city’s cheeriest bus driver, Patrick Lawson’s life has been quite a ride. This is his London story

By Layla Haidrani
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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’

Patrick Lawson

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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