How A Panic Attack Started A Revolution!
On the 2nd anniversary of the mightily successful Facebook group, Northern Resist, let’s reflect on how it all started, where we are now, and why it’s become so much more than any of us could have ever imagined.
I created the group in October 2017 after suffering a panic attack on the 07.42 Hebden Bridge to Manchester on my morning commute to work.
“Can you help me? I can’t breathe.” I said to a young, unassuming woman next to me.
We were crammed in like sardines, there was nowhere to sit and barely anywhere to stand. It was the same every single morning because of short-formed, delayed, and cancelled trains.
Tears were streaming down my face and I thought I was going to throw up. My mouth was dry and my hands clammy. My head was pulsating and I felt like my brain was caving in.
Anger and illness leads to action
I couldn’t take it anymore, and wondered: Why should we have to? I mentioned to a friend (a fellow Northern sufferer) that I was going to start a group on Facebook. The intent was for people to record their gripes with Northern so we could submit a group complaint. I asked her if she was in? She was.
It was aptly named Northern (Rail): Ruining People’s Lives On A Daily Basis.
I wanted to challenge Northern (Rail) on its dire services in the North. I wanted to hold it to account over its decisions to raise fares. I wanted to scrutinise its poor infrastructure, and ultimately to enable all of its customers (now described as “sufferers”) to have a voice.
Small but focused
We initially started with 80 people. All exhausted and angry, resulting from the constant delays, cancellations, incompetence, poor communication and all-round terrible, daily experience.
The word spread and we’re now just short of 4’000 members.
In November 2017, the Manchester Evening News wrote an article on how bad the experience was travelling with Northern and I was interviewed as a founder of the group.
As a result of the feature another thousand people joined and the stories just started flooding in:
People had lost their jobs for being late for work regularly
Others were paying for hotel rooms when the last train was cancelled
Disabled people were being left on platforms because the guards weren’t trained to use the ramps
Windscreen wipers malfunctioned during heavy snow so the guards had to manually wipe the windows
Childcare fees were mounting up due to the extra time incurred as a result of the late trains
Stress and anxiety were common as a direct result of the commute dominating people’s lives
Enough is enough
People questioned why they were paying over a thousand pounds per year to travel on a service that is so unreliable that their livelihoods are being called into question. It was impacting on their families and loved ones and nobody was taking it seriously.
How was this ok?
There’s only so much a person can take before they snap. And when people snap nowadays, they snap and turn to social media.
Big businesses shouldn’t rest on their laurels now we have social media
Social media has become an incredibly important tool for people to communicate, or voice concerns about a service or a product they’re unhappy with, and make links with others who are experiencing the same issues.
This is not just specific to Northern; in a world of consumerism, paying customers know that they have rights and that there is a certain level of service they are entitled to and are clear on what they should expect.
It’s a modern-day method of holding businesses to account when things go wrong, however minuscule.
Social media also provides the opportunity for exposure, and with Northern Resist, there's been plenty. I wrote an article for The Guardian and have been featured on the BBC’s Rip off Britain about holding big businesses to account.
The pinnacle of free-market capitalism was sold with the narrative that competition secures the best service.
Arriva (in charge of Northern) had already lost public transport contracts before securing the Northern contract. They were not to be trusted but they got the contract anyway.
When a monopoly exists in this way, it is wholly unaccountable, free from scrutiny and free to make its own rules. The impact on the customer is profound.
In Northern’s case when people complain on social media they are blocked! If they complain through the usual procedures they’re ignored.
Meanwhile, shareholders continue to shore up bonuses whilst the company runs at a loss. Putting profit before people whilst running the franchise into the ground.
The Government subsidises these private corporations using tax payer’s money. Privatisation is propped up by the principles of public ownership.
The group has become an incredible source of solidarity for passengers and has utilised an array of the skills and talents that exist within its members to continuously challenge Northern.
From public speaking to press releases to media interviews to attending meetings with MP’s and Northern management, people have come together to pursue this formidable movement.
Many people also rely on the group for real-time travel information; for sharing stories and providing humour in times of need and support in times of chaos.
On we go
We have differing views about what the future should hold for Northern; many believe in renationalising the rail networks, whilst others believe in having a healthy, competitive private market.
One thing’s for sure: if the recent Government intervention and press coverage is anything to go by – Northern’s days are numbered, and we intend to assist in their departure.
If you’d like to join our group please click here, we'd love to have you.