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Help in hard times

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What can you buy for £1? You could pick up a couple of pints of milk. A chocolate bar, or two, if you’re lucky. Or, for £1 a week, you could become a member of the Transport Benevolent Fund CIO (TBF), a registered charity in England, Wales and Scotland with 63,000 members.

Such is the size of the charity’s backing that in 2020 it will pay out almost £3 million in benefits to its members. 

This ranges from convalescence to complementary and alternative therapies for its members, their partner and any dependants. 

“When someone picks up the phone and calls us, you never know what they’re going to ask for,” said John Sheehy, a former Northern line train operator who now leads the charity as its chief executive. “Is it because they’re off sick and their sick pay is less than what they normally receive, which causes them financial hardship? We can normally help to keep their head above water if so. 

“Or is it because they need some sort of osteopathy or chiro or that they’re in a long waiting list on the NHS for a scan – because, although we can’t take the place of the NHS, we can step in and put up some funds to help them go private, to help them get back into work.”


In 1994, TBF increased its weekly membership rate to £1, a rate that has been frozen ever since. That doesn’t mean that the charity hasn’t been in demand – it’s quite the opposite, as John explained. 

“Unfortunately, in today’s world there is a real growing need for organisations like us, more than ever,” he said. “You’d think that in the 21st century with the state welfare system that everyone would be fine, but it’s just getting harder and harder out there. 

“If we weren’t around you do wonder what our beneficiaries would do when they fall on hard times.”

Station staff

For the ninth successive year, TBF is once more returning to sponsor the Station Staff of the Year Award at the RailStaff Awards.

It’s a category that covers a wide range of frontline job roles, from ticket office staff to those working in retail, customer service, revenue protection and as station supervisors, a group that TBF often finds itself in contact with. 

John added: “We generally help more frontline staff than anyone else. They’re likely to be on a lower rate of pay than other people in the industry, and they’re probably the people who’ll come to us for help because of their lifestyles, their shift work and lower income. So it’s quite poignant to sponsor this category.”

John has been unable to attend the RailStaff Awards for the last few years due to family reasons, but when the RailStaff Awards returns on November 28 this year, he’ll be among the crowd. 

John said: “The RailStaff Awards is great advertisement for us and let’s everyone in the industry know that we are here and ready to help if, unfortunately, you fall on hardship or distress. This is why employers giving us access to their staff is essential.” 

“It’s exposure but also helps us to carry out our duty as a charity to try and help as many people employed in the public transport industries, because that’s why we are here. If we’re not doing that, we’re not meeting the aims of the charity.”

The awards will once more take place at Birmingham’s NEC with jaw-dropping entertainment, fine dining and the awards ceremony. John’s highlight will be something far more simple, however. 

He added: “Whatever job you do – and most people do a good job – it’s always nice to get some recognition. To see, in whatever category, the faces of people winning an award is what it’s all about really. It’s as simple as that. 

“A lot of people work week in, week out, year in, year out and retire and no one’s ever said to them ‘well done, you’ve done a great job there’.

“So it’s always nice as an industry as a whole to recognise it’s people.”

To nominate one of your colleagues in one of 20 awards categories or to find out more information, head to www.railstaffawards.com