Thursday 1 June 2017

First Norwich Reaping Rewards

Any gardener will tell you a seed doesn't become a flower overnight. Farmers sow their fields in the Spring, to reap the crops in Autumn. It's a gradual process, with the farmers having to be prepared to give nature a helping hand if needed, which it quite often is. It's all part of the nurturing process to generate the greatest yield.

Changing attitudes in the workplace is similar. Again it's not an overnight process. Long standing practices and traditions have to be gradually eroded away, and personnel, through nurturing, gently prodded in the new direction in a way that makes them all feel part of the process. It's a skill that not everyone can achieve, but when someone does the rewards can be truly bountiful.

First Eastern Counties have been doing just that over the last few years and now are beginning to see their efforts recognised in high places. I was contacted a couple of weeks ago by Cliff Hussey, Operations Manager at First Norwich, to inform me that FEC had been nominated at the Be First Awards, which recognise contributions fro within the whole of First Group, including the rail sector, which encompasses some 110,000 employees. FEC, specifically the Norwich Safety Committee , were nominated for the "Dedicated to Safety Award", which I'll be honest thought meant everyone wore their yellow vests correctly, or the yellow lines in the depot were painted bright enough. Not so, however, and I'm delighted to be able to quote the official citation from the awards ceremony that took place in Manchester a few weeks ago.

"The brainchild of Operations Manager Cliff Hussey, the Norwich Safety Committee has developed a fun and engaging process to discuss, deliver and plan all aspects of safety in the workplace. With invitations to a Teddy Bear's Picnic, a Punk Party, and a Mad Hatter's Tea Party, employees are encouraged to attend meetings and discuss delivering results in a relaxed environment."

"The concept has seen a significant increase in engagement from staff in contributing to improving safety. It has empowered and encouraged them to think, act, and improve safety for themselves, their colleagues, and customers."

"More importantly, it has created an environment where safety is no longer seen as someone else's responsibility, it is now seen as everyone's responsibility."

I'm delighted to report that the Norwich team came runners up in the category to Hull Trains, making them by default the best in UK bus. Many congratulations to Cliff and his team for gaining national recognition and putting FEC on the national map.

Yesterday I went to Norwich to meet Cliff, who I haven't seen since he relocated from Ipswich, having done much to transform that depot into a much more customer friendly depot. Quite ironic then that I had to get to Norwich using Anglian, but it did give me the chance to ride one of the Mercedes Citaros on loan to Anglian while their own fleet undergoes an overhaul.

Go Ahead 2413 at Halesworth
Apologies - the last letter of the alphabet key has given up the ghost on my laptop so I won't be quoting any registrations that include it, but these ex Southampton Bluestar Citaros are strange beasts. Like all Citaros they give the impression of being cavernous inside, yet there are only 35 fixed seats which is a tiny amount for a bus that big. Some serious tightening of roof and side interior panels is required to stop the loud rattling, but the seats they have got are comfortable and the ride is excellent. A driver told me Anglian have the 13 Citaros on loan for 8 - 10 months, which is longer than I first thought, so plenty of opportunity to get to know them better.

Ok back to First, and it was great to meet the Norwich team again, in particular Lee Howells, who always welcomes me like an old mate - was good to see you again, Lee. The commercial team were extremely hospitable and trusting, which I truly appreciated, and I could sense a really happy atmosphere.

But it is Cliff I want to concentrate on. You could describe Cliff as old school. He acknowledges that the basic concept of buses is to transport the public from A - B in the most convenient way, in return for a fare. We happily talked about the old days but Cliff is a man hopelessly in love with his job, and sees his staff as his children that it is his job to look after. He told me his philosophy is that you shouldn't only see your staff when they've been "naughty and are up in front of you for a telling off", but they should see him when they've been good, or have any questions or suggestions to make. In short Cliff doesn't want a workforce but a family, at the same time changing the attitude of those not used to a customer friendly or team playing approach. This is the nurturing I was talking about - it takes time. I saw a very simple yet effective notice board with up to date information on how each route was running, with easy to access colour coded pigeon holes containing any diversions or other information the drivers needed to know. Little things like that, making drivers' lives easier have enormous impact on staff morale.

Cliff also told me he is intent on creating the same environment he did at Ipswich, which includes converting drivers to the belief that they should be happy someone wants to take a picture of their bus, not negative not aggressive, as every photo taken by enthusiasts is positive advertising. I know that's something Cliff feels very strongly about, and I'm sure everyone welcomes that stance.

As I said at the top of the post none of this will happen overnight, and regardless of how cheerful they normally are drivers are human and will still have bad days - as enthusiasts we need to remember and recognise that too. But it's good to know we have management on our side. This region may lag behind the rest of the country in some respects, but as far as bus operators accepting and embracing enthusiasts is concerned I think the operators here are pioneers that the rest of the country ought to take note of and copy. Yes operators such as Reading Buses have the same attitude, but quite a lot don't, and to have a major player such as First appreciating the role enthusiasts have to play is outstanding and needs to be applauded.

Many thanks, Cliff, and congratulations on your achievements. I'll be popping in regularly to chew the cud and keep up to speed (in both senses) of what's going on.

I promised Cliff I would split my return journey and go to Bungay on the new Charcoal Line X41. Wasn't a difficult promise to keep as I had intended to do that anyway. So I made my way to St Stephen's St, joined by Cameron, and we waited for the X41 to come along, rather praying it wouldn't be a substitute like the one we saw on the 40 to Poringland.

Very hard seated 66340 in charcoal white!
Thankfully it wasn't, and shortly after ex Leeds Gemini 36181 showed up looking rather splendid in her new colours..

36181 in St Stephen's St
You know what you're getting with B9's. Quiet, smooth, comfortable - everything a bus should be. Unfortunately the WifI so clearly advertised was absent, but as a fast route to Bungay both the route and vehicles are superior to anything else running that corridor at present. I expect Anglian to respond in time, but maybe not immediately due to their current fleet constraints. I also hinted rather strongly that the X41 should be extended to Halesworth. My fingers are crossed!

This is the most positive I've felt about bus services in East Anglia for a long time. Now we need to start seeing the return of some of the routes lost over the last 7 years, and operators targeting new custom from those communities currently without a bus service, rather than targeting other operator's customers. Engagement with those communities is key, and given the positivity of management in the area now maybe, just maybe all is not lost and there s a glimmer of hope.

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