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'I was homeless and a drug addict, but now I’m London’s happiest bus driver'

Suzanne Bearne
'I was homeless and a drug addict, but now I’m London’s happiest bus driver'. Patrick Lawson, 51, on how he turned his life around after prison and addiction

Name: Patrick Lawson
Age: 51
Occupation: Bus driver, Islington, London
Income: £24,000


I grew up without access to any kind of financial intelligence and I think that’s why many of the terrible things I’ve done in life were for money. Everything stemmed around money. The only thing I ever knew was breaking the law and I ended up in prison several times.

I hit rock bottom. I was homeless on and off for 20 years. I used to think the world owed me but then I’d still wake up homeless and hungry.

I became addicted to class A drugs. I hung around with people I shouldn’t have. I was beaten up and held hostage for four hours. I was convinced I was going to die. I thought of my children and so I prayed and reached out to the universe. I ended up in hospital and explained to the doctors that I had a drug problem.

Related: ‘I have a daughter to bring up and I’m struggling to survive’

They called social services and I started getting drug treatment. From there I started getting into self-development through podcasts and YouTube videos. I changed my mindset and realised what I was doing was wrong and that’s when I put a stop to it all. It’s been a difficult road but five years on, I’m grateful I was given an opportunity to live.

I’m in a different place and frame of mind. I remember reading that whatever job you have, even if you don’t like it, do the best you can do as it’ll help you grow as a person and eventually it will lead you to the thing you want to do in life.

Before the interview for this job, I travelled on buses to see how the drivers conducted themselves. I noticed they didn’t even look at the passengers, never mind interact. When I started the job, I made a promise that I would greet every bus passenger. I’ve kept my promise. Sometimes they’ll be surprised that I talk to them and freeze, or they’ll respond “You’re happy!”.

I’m serving my community and making other people happy by doing what a bus driver is meant to be doing – looking out for their needs. I pull right up to the side of the pavement, I’ll lower the bus where necessary, wait for the elderly to be seated before pulling off and I greet people as they come on. Early this year I was named London’s happiest bus driver. I’ve received more than 100 commendations from customers over the past two years.

I feel blessed to live in a council flat which I was given when my children and I were living in a bedsit. My rent is £145 a week. I pay £166 as I was in arrears for years. I still have a habit of living like I’m in prison so I’ll often just stay in one room.

I spend about £50 a week on food. Although I’m in a takeaway right now, I’m trying to get in the habit of cooking at home as I need to save more money.

Related: ‘I give away half to three-quarters of my income every year’

I was in a lot of debt but I’ve slowly become better at handling money. I continued claiming benefits and tax credits for my children after they moved out but the government found out so I had to set up a payment plan to pay back £20 every two weeks. I thought credit cards would help but then I ended up with £2,000 of debt. There’s also been telephone and mobile phone debt. But I’ve since changed things around by paying off most of my debt and setting aside 10% of my income for the future. I met a financial coach who generously gave me four hours of her time for free. She encouraged me to write out my life goals and it really made me dig deep and think. I told her I wanted to buy my council flat and she advised me to pay off my debt first instead of saving.

Before I didn’t understand budgeting. Money would just come in and go out and I’d never have enough for the rest of the month. My spending was a bit nuts. But now I feel fantastic. I’ve done a lot of soul-searching and I think a lot of my past behaviour stems back to things that happened to me as a child. But now I’m happy in myself, I love my job, and I’m on track to buy my flat.

Patrick has shared his story as part of a campaign called More Than My Past, run by UK charity the Forward Trust. The campaign encourages employers to look beyond the stigmas associated with ex-offenders or people recovering from addiction. Visit www.morethanmypast.org.uk.