Case Study
East Midlands Railway logo

East Midlands Railway’s vision is to drive the East Midlands towards a brighter future, working in partnership to connect cities and support communities, putting customers at the heart of their sustainable railway … and working as ‘one team’.

They are investors in people, and their values underpin their identity. Those values demonstrate how they treat passengers and each other and help them deliver their vision to “Put customers at the heart of our sustainable railway”.

We spoke to Liam  Buswell, the On Train Depot Manager (South), which covers Kettering to London St Pancras. He’s responsible for managing the depot and train crews, including managers and customer hosts, and recruiting new staff.

How did you discover terptree?

At the start of the year, we began a recruitment drive for additional customer hosts to join our team (to serve refreshments to passengers in first class). We have a ‘blind screening’ policy using a scoring system. When the successful candidates were informed they had progressed to the assessment day, one (Sarah) told us she was profoundly deaf and would need the support of an interpreter on that day.

Our recruitment team did the background work to find a company that could supply an interpreter.

What function has terptree performed for your organisation?

Sarah (the deaf candidate) did exceptionally well on the assessment day and scored highly in her interview. We knew that although it might be challenging. We didn’t have any other deaf employees, so it was unchartered territory for us, but we wanted to offer her a position and do all we could to support her success.

With so many unknowns and challenges, like health and safety, environment and communication, etc., we needed support, and terptree was the obvious choice to assess the situation and liaise with Sarah about her specific needs and how we could facilitate them.

During Sarah’s induction, with terptree’s help, we monitored how she interacted with our current systems and procedures and identified each touch point that needed modifications. We assessed two environments: one for the onboard hosting role and another for the gate line role at the ticket barriers, as that position was also available.

So many things needed to be considered: how she would communicate with customers and be made aware of alarms, etc. It quickly became apparent that the gate line role wouldn’t suit Sarah because it’s a more pressured environment with people in a hurry and a lot of background noise from the station … which can’t be controlled. The train is a more confined space so that Sarah can be in control of the situation.

What benefits has this brought?

As I mentioned, we’ve never employed a deaf team member before, and there’s no denying it was a lot of work for us and for Sarah. It took us out of our comfort zone on many occasions, and it’s been a massive learning curve, but for East Midlands to have someone with Sarah’s capabilities on board, it was worth it. Seeing how adaptable she is and watching how she works with customers is an inspiration.

But I also feel proud that we’ve set the parameters for other train companies to consider the many benefits of employing deaf team members. And, if you look at it from an employee situation, we’ve made sure Sarah is safe and able to do the job to the best of her abilities and that the rest of the team understands how they can interact with her … as having a deaf colleague is going to be different for them as well.

What was the biggest benefit?

Sarah will be a great team member and has had a hugely positive impact on us. As a company, we never expected anything like this to happen, and Sarah and terptree have certainly opened our eyes to the possibility of employing other deaf people. It’s set a lot of wheels in motion for our diversity and inclusion team to get some projects to the forefront.

How easy was it to work with terptree?

I’ll be the first to admit I was sceptical about this at first. As much as I knew Sarah would be a great addition to our team, I could also see that challenges lay ahead, and we would have pushback from those who didn’t believe it could all work out. I worried whether we would achieve what we wanted to. But terptree made it as easy as it was ever going to be. Their patience, commitment and knowledge convinced us we could adapt and change.

It’s been easy to work with them. They’ve never pressured us to do anything. Instead, they always said, “If you can do it, you should do it – but do it safely”.

What is the ongoing role?

Now we’ve made this connection with terptree, I know it will continue, and they will be there for advice whenever we need it.

We’re also considering introducing BSL into our employee training program as they can communicate with Sarah and our deaf passengers.

 What is your advice to others who might be considering engaging with terptree?

I think it’s important that employers understand that we need to change, not deaf people. The terptree team has all the support, tools, and experience to help you include deaf employees as part of your team. They work for the employer and the deaf person.

For them, it isn’t about ‘finding jobs for deaf people’. They champion employing deaf people, but if they think something isn’t right for you or isn’t going to work, they don’t push you; they’ll tell you. Even if that means you can’t employ that person for a specific role because it isn’t safe or a system or procedure can’t realistically be adapted.

Would you recommend terptree, and why?

I can’t think of a single negative about working with terptree.

They’ve been wonderful, engaging, and positive and have helped us a lot. It’s a journey we hadn’t considered going on before, but I’m so glad we did, and they were part of it. They give you the confidence that you can do something. I like that they don’t necessarily give you all the answers, as each situation is different … but they point you in the right direction and give you the tools to make an informed decision. It’s been true teamwork, and I’m so glad we’ve worked together towards the common goal of getting Sarah into work.


Liam finished by saying,

“Seeing Sarah in the workplace, knowing how much this has meant to her and how good she is at her job, has changed my (and many of my colleagues’) view of employing people with disabilities. I had the same preconceptions most of us have: “This could be too much of a challenge”. Well, it will be challenging at times, of course. But with companies like terptree there to help, most, if not all, of those challenges can be overcome. We’ve been on a journey with Sarah, and it’s been a nice little journey!”

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