RBF (the new name for Railway Benefit Fund), is sponsoring this year’s HR Manager of the Year.
The move heralds a higher public profile for RBF, the railway charity dedicated to helping current, former and retired railway staff.
Abi Smith joined RBF as Executive Director four months ago. Says Abi, ‘HR managers, their teams and recruiters, are real heroes for us and have already proved very helpful as we review the work of RBF. We have been taking advice from many HR managers this year as we work out what we can do better and where help is needed most.’
RBF, which was established in 1858, is currently conducting a full scale review of its activities before modernising and updating its structure. ‘We are very much aware that many railway staff do not know about us. We plan to change all that and increase the scope of our fund raising – as well as the help we can offer.’
The HR role in railways has changed dramatically over the last 20 years. HR managers keep track of employment legislation, organise training, recruitment and development and keep a watching brief on the health, well-being and safety of all staff. The welfare of staff is important. Most railway companies now view the recruitment, training and retention of skilled staff as among their highest priorities.
It’s been a busy four months for Abi who is originally from York but moved over to Chester as a teenager. After taking Business Studies at West Cheshire College, Abi set about forging a promising career in hotel management. Although successful Abi Smith looked around for a different and more challenging role. Quite by chance she heard of a job at a children’s hospice, Claire House, at Bebington on the Wirral. ‘It was certainly a step back in terms of pay and career,’ says Abi who started as a community fundraiser, eventually rising to being Area Fundraising Manager. ‘But I don’t regret a minute of it.’ She stayed nine years and helped lead a capital-intense rebuilding project, boosting income from £1.2m to £2.9m a year.
At the same time she married Pete and the couple now have a 5 year old daughter, Chloe and two step children, Hannah and James. The family lives at Bromborough on the Wirral. Abi spends much of her time in London and at the RBF offices in Crewe.
‘I liked being at Claire House but I found out about RBF and the more I learned about it and the railway industry the more I was drawn into it.’ Abi says.
RBF helps railway people in times of financial hardship through grants. ‘We fund things like mobility equipment, funeral expenses and household repairs.’ One retired railwayman suffering from Parkinson’s Disease needed a new cooker with a guard round it – to stop him accidentally knocking pots off. It’s the sort of outlay not covered by social services and too expensive for a pensioner but RBF stepped in and replaced the cooker.
In another instance a railway couple were bringing up two grandchildren. They needed help with buying sensory equipment for one of the children who had learning difficulties. A grant from RBF helped. One gentleman needed a replacement mobility scooter and the RBF stepped in.
This year RBF needs £500,00 to help support approximately 500 people. Grants range in value from hundreds of pounds to quite small amounts.
Says RailStaff editor, Andy Milne, ‘For many of us the railway is a community, a family, and it makes sense to extend a helping hand to railway people who need help. This is a very worthwhile cause and we wish Abi and her team every success at RBF. Many people only see HR managers at the job interview or when they have a query about pay or terms and conditions but in fact they do an immense amount of good and, like so many in the industry, get very little recognition for it. This award aims to put that right and ensure everyone in the industry is right up to speed on the good work of the RBF.’