George the Poet and First Bus release ‘ode to the bus’ poem, as research shows people in the Midlands want to connect more in public spaces

George the Poet and First Bus release ‘ode to the bus’ poem, as research shows people in the Midlands want to connect more in public spaces

·         New research commissioned by First Bus finds that four in five people in the Midlands think buses are an important way of connecting with their community, inspiring wordsmith, George the Poet, to create a powerful poem 

·         However, nine in ten in the Midlands struggle to make conversation with strangers and four in five would love to be better at making small talk 

·         HCPC Registered Counselling Psychologist and Mental Health Expert, Dr. Tara Quinn-Cirillo, has revealed her top tips on how to engage in small talk 



June 2024: A powerful poem and accompanying video has today been released by acclaimed poet, George the Poet, celebrating the power of buses as a central pillar of local communities around the UK, as research reveals the Midlands are more afraid of connecting to people in their communities than ever before.  


The newly commissioned research found that whilst nearly nine in 10 (89 per cent) people say that having a conversation with a stranger brightens their day, a whopping nine in 10 (90 per cent) people in the Midlands struggle to make conversation with strangers. With 83 per cent of Midlands locals saying buses are an important space for connecting with their community, leading UK bus operator First Bus has partnered with celebrated wordsmith and spoken word performer, George the Poet, to create an ‘ode to the bus’, to remind people in the Midlands of the cultural and social significance of buses as the beating hearts of our communities and sustainable ways of moving within them. 


Discussing the inspiration behind the poem, George the Poet says: Buses have played a pivotal role in shaping who I am today. When I was young I had a long commute between home and school, and it introduced me to many life-long friends that I am still close with to this day, while also for helping form the foundations of my career as a poet. 


During the hours spent on the bus, I would watch the world changing around me. I’ll never forget how those observations would inspire new lyrics, and shape my understanding of different communities. This gave me an affinity for the bus that I still have today. Working with First Bus on this piece of work has been a great reminder of the importance of shared spaces for our local communities, and opportunities for connection that they offer.” 


The research commissioned by First Bus revealed that 1 in 10 say that chit chat on a bus has led to a stranger becoming a close friend or partner. Other spaces people in the Midlands have made friends from small talk include work (50 per cent), a party (17 per cent), the supermarket (25 per cent) and a dinner party (8 per cent).  


Yet, the ‘art’ of small talk is disappearing, with ‘never knowing what to say’ (70 per cent), ‘feeling self-conscious’ (30 per cent), ‘worrying about saying something stupid’ (40 per cent) and ‘stumbling over the words’ (35 per cent) being the main concerns that people in the Midlands have about chit-chatting with strangers.  


In response to the findings, HCPC Registered Counselling Psychologist and Mental Health Expert, Dr. Tara Quinn-Cirillo says: “Humans are inherently social beings, so a lack of purposeful connection can negatively impact physical and mental health, with loneliness now classed as a public health issue by the World Health Organisation. 


“However, the research by First Bus reveals that anxiety about talking to others can be a huge barrier to connection and starting conversations, which can lead to people avoiding them altogether. Most significant, is the high number of people who said that something as simple as connecting with someone on a bus had a profound impact on their life. We can all make a huge difference through a smile and a ‘hello’, so I encourage people to reconsider engaging with their community, starting with the basics of small talk.” 


Dr. Quinn-Cirillo has created a series of tips to help people in the Midlands feel more confident in conversing with strangers:  


5 tips for mastering the art of small talk 

Starting a conversation can be challenging due to various factors, such as fear of rejection, social anxiety, lack of confidence, or past negative experiences. However, engaging in small talk offers significant personal benefits, including the development of social connections and the enhancement of overall well-being. Initiating this process with simple steps can help to build your confidence and form valuable relationships within your community. 


1.       You can start with simple pleasantries such as “Hi!” or “How’s your day going?”. We can overthink starting conversations and it really can be a simple as a hello.  

2.       Try smaller, more closed questions or even observations for example: the weather, the route the bus is taking, even roadworks, things on the street, the view out the window, whatever it is that catches your attention. 

3.       Be aware of the ‘hooks’ preventing you starting a conversation e.g. fear, anxiety, past experiences, judgement, and try and address these. Our past experiences can impact our current functioning too. If we have experienced difficult conversations in the past, have a history of social anxiety or grew up with certain rules about talking in public, this can also impact us. Remember, these negative previous experiences do not mean all future interactions will go the same way.  

4.       Come back to your values. Do you value connection, autonomy, enjoyment for example. Could you achieve these feelings through starting a conversation or even better forging a new connection on a regular bus route. The emotional and physical health benefits from valued connection can be immense.  

5.       Build up to wider questions, as this can lead to a longer conversation. If you regularly see the same person on your commute to work, or the same bus driver every morning, why not ask how they are, or how their morning is going. Taking an interest in the people around you goes a long way in helping to build small connections and form casual relationships with the people you share everyday spaces with. 


Simon Pearson, Chief Commercial Officer at First Bus, said “As a leading operator of bus routes across the UK, we are well aware of the power and significance buses hold in connecting people to their local communities, not just literally as a method of transport, but socially too.  


“First Bus is a product of our amazing colleagues who work tirelessly in our depots behind the scenes and out on the road on our buses, and customers who opt to travel by bus and help create a greener future. It is an honour to be able to partner with such a highly-esteemed creative like George the Poet to help sing all the amazing benefits of bus travel, and it’s a delight to see some true stories of our First Bus communities come to life through his words and in the video itself.” 


The video features a number of First Bus staff members from across the country who have incredible stories to tell: 

·         Derek Milliken (Glasgow, Scotland) saved the life of a member of the public whilst on the job. 

·         Marie Warner (Caledonia, Scotland) forms a unique duo with her daughter Gemma, who both work as drivers for First Bus 

·         Megan Copeland (Aberdeen, Scotland) is breaking traditional gender stereotypes as a young female bus driver 

·         Fauja Singh Roth (Leeds, West Yorkshire) is not just a bus driver, but community hero, who donates his spare time to helping at his local gurdwara 

·         Jakub Malick (Colchester, Essex) saved the life of a member of the public whilst on the job. 

·         Robert Burns (Glasgow, Scotland) is a proud LGBTQ+ community member, and unveiled First Bus’ first ever pride liveried bus in Glasgow 


First Bus delivers over a million journeys a week in the communities it serves across the UK and it is on a mission to grow bus usage while putting its people and customers at the heart of everything it does. The brand is committed to operating a zero-emission fleet by 2035 and already boasts a fleet made up of around 15% ZEB’s (Zero Emission Buses). 


To watch the full-length video of George the Poet performing his ‘ode to the bus’ poem, please click here. 


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