Michael, a bus driver for Stagecoach in Guildford, has become a huge hit with students after he set up an Instagram account back in February called 'surreynightbus'. He uses the platform to share selfies of himself with his fellow student passengers on their way home from a night out.
The plan to set up the account was initially decided as an easy way to update students on the night bus, Michael revealed when I spoke to him, but it seems to have become something much larger. "Hazel Farm and Manor Park students said it was a good idea and it just snowballed from there. I'm the only driver who actually talked to students and to me that's the most important thing."
"What a lot of people don't seem to understand," Michael explained, "is that you have students from all over the world coming to the UK, and it's the first time they have been away from their mum and dad and family."
It is this paternal attitude that is so appreciated by students all across campus, especially the 18 year olds exploring Guildford for the very first time. I'm sure this will become an even more important quality for this year's wave of bright-eyed freshers, who will have to make an extra effort to consider their safety in a socially distanced world.
This paternal attitude [...] will become an even more important quality for this year's wave of bright eyed freshers, who will have to make an extra effort to consider their safety in a socially distanced world.
You certainly don't have to look far to find students ready to sing the bus driver's praises. Courtney Nicholson, a Midwifery student at Surrey, also recognised Michael's caring nature. She told me that, "after a night out, there's nobody else I'd rather have pick me and my friends up to take us home! Michael always asks us how our night was, takes photos with us, has a little sing and dance. He's honestly one of my highlights of year one at Surrey! He's like a second dad to us all, checking we're safe and okay every single night."
Similarly Philip Efthimiou, one of the upcoming Community Zone officers in the Students' Union, expressed his appreciation for Michael. "Once, I had a friend who was new to Guildford taking the 1am bus to town on her own, and he was super talkative, kind, and friendly. He's always very welcoming and from what I've seen he makes sure people feel safe. The night bus tends to be a host of antisocial activity, so seeing all the posts on his account makes me think he's made a good impression on many more people over the years."
It's certainly an aspect of nightlife that is a cause for concern, especially for young women and freshers. It can become a worry so severe that it prevents anxious students from going out at all, so the knowledge that there is a bus driver keeping an eye out is all the more reassuring.
This is particularly poignant after psychology student, Jess Strachan, shared her story. "When I was attacked at the bus stop I told him about it the next day and he made sure since then that I get on the bus safely after work (I work late nights in town) or after a night out. He would even drop me from the bus to my building in Manor Park and it was nice to know I was safe late at night after being attacked."
Michael and Jess on the night bus via Instagram
Three years ago the University of Surrey was considered one of the safest universities in the UK, but in 2019 Guildford had 1,000 more reported crimes than the previous year, showcasing the growing need for safety in the area. Jess' story is an example of this potential risk for students and is a reminder that students should always take precautionary measures when travelling home late at night. In term time the University has a few services in place including Nightline, a phone service where you can have an anonymous chat with a student after dark, and the Welfare Watch volunteers who can be found in the Front Room on Rubix nights (Wednesday and Friday) to help sober students up if they've been kicked out of the club, not let in, or just need some fresh air. With Michael on hand though, it's encouraging to know that once on the night bus there will be a friendly face to keep you safe.
The final student I spoke to, Jolena Scholz who studies English Literature, further emphasised her reassuring experience as a first year exploring Guildford for the first time. "In freshers week everything can be very overwhelming, having Michael as the night bus driver made every night out more enjoyable. He is welcoming and friendly and puts everyone at ease after a night out in Guildford. Having a reliable, kind night bus driver makes a huge difference to students after a night out."
After two years on the job Michael insisted that he was "enjoying every moment of it", and that he "can't wait until September when we start the night bus again".
Hopefully it will be that soon for us to be able to enjoy the stereotypical student lifestyle again. Either way, make sure you give Michael a beaming smile the next time you eventually clamber on board.