Lisa Hewitt, Partnership Marketing Manager at TransPennine Express discusses their three year partnership with the Campaign to End Loneliness.

How it all started

I became aware of the Campaign to End Loneliness on one of my daily lockdown walks when a poster at a bus stop sparked my interest. It challenged people to look up from their phones when using public transport. I thought I would reach out to see what the opportunities they were to create a partnership.

After our initial discussion, it became obvious that a partnership between us was a good fit in many ways. As a public transport provider, TransPennine Express connects people and brings people together. We connect people who are travelling across the country. These journeys can help to alleviate feelings of loneliness. Our frontline team prioritise work hard on having a positive impact on people’s days through their daily interactions with customers.

At the time, there were colleagues loneliness. Some of the roles at TPE can be quite solitary. During lockdown this became a lot harder. So we knew there was a job to be done internally too.

We announced our partnership during Loneliness Awareness Week in 2021. The three areas we wanted to focus on were:

  • Raising awareness of the issues and influencing behaviours to our customers

  • Signposting to resources and supporting our colleagues

  • Connecting communities through our train service

Chatty benches

We launched ‘chatty benches’ in 19 of our stations in the first year of our partnership. We kicked off the launch at Scarborough station which has the longest railway bench in the world! At the launch, we chatted to our customers who sat at the bench. We even got some press and media coverage!

Introducing the ‘chatty benches’ highlighted our partnership with the campaign. It was a gentle nudge to our customers to get them to engage more with the people around them. Sitting on a bench next to a stranger watching the world go by can help alleviate feelings of loneliness. You never know the impact you might have on someone by just saying hello.

We set up campaigns on our social media channels to get more people to engage with our chatty benches. We ran a competition where we asked customers to share their most interesting train chat. The winners received train tickets and a free book!

It was particularly important for us to raise awareness of loneliness among colleagues. We set up a weekly newsletter which focused on support that is available if you’re experiencing loneliness. We also shared on information on our workplace app. We also host the Campaign’s two e-learning modules on our learning hub. Both courses are now a compulsory part of our on-boarding process for new starters.

What else did we do?

We hosted a number of coffee mornings at different stations across our network. We have given out free teas and coffees and had chat with customers who were passing through. It was n opportunity for us to hand out some helpful literature about the support that is available.

We worked with comedian and author Max Dickins, in the summer of 2023. Max wrote a book about male friendship, ‘Billy No Mates – How I realised men have a friendship problem’. The themes in the book highlighted what we were trying to achieve as organisation. We chatted to him at a few of our stations and followed him along one of our train journeys. We talked about the problems Max had faced in his life. He shared some tips and suggestions on how to maintain friendships. The interview coincided with a pop-up book stall with the House of Books and Friends at Manchester Airport. Max signed some of his books for people who were passing through the station. It was a great opportunity for us to talk to our customers who were passing through. We launched the interview with the media and on social media on World Mental Health Day.

Over the course of our partnership, we have discussed loneliness at length with our customers and colleagues. We hope that the campaigns and initiatives that we have worked on together have highlighted how small acts can make a huge impact.