Piccadilly Circus tube’s BSL

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Piccadilly Circus tube station, one of the busiest on the tube, certainly in terms of tourism, is also a station where the unusual happens all the time. I have written about the staff once before. They have indeed been doing something very unusual. This is their learning some sign language (BSL), no doubt because its one of the stations most heavily used by deaf people. Actually there’s no proof of that besides a certain pub event weekly – its just my reasoning lol! Its without a something totally unprecedented on the tube – and Eros should be proud!

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Photomontage from the station’s Instagram account.

The initiative is down to one member of staff, Charlie, who is a talented multi-linguist (including French and Spanish) and also a singer – though I don’t think he actually gets a chance to busk at the bottom of the Piccadilly escalators! Go on TfL give him a licence!

BSL is short for British Sign Language. Each country has initials – ASL (USA) LSF (France) LSE (Spain) and so on. BSL is an official abbreviation and recognised by many authorities including the British government itself.

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A fab initiative! Most staff just lazily rely on using announcements to direct passengers. As the theatres empty Charlie here is using the train dispatcher batons to create a visual indication where people should flow in order to ease pressure on the station barriers.

Charlie has been learning some deaf awareness since April – and also autism awareness from earlier in the year – so that’s a set of bonuses for me and no doubt for others too!

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Frank, Pick him for promotion! Our hero Charlie by the station’s famous memorial.

Three weeks ago I discovered this set of tweets the station’s staff had posted showing the efforts to learn some BSL. The station’s Twitter account is quite new so it hasn’t gained the recognition some other tube stations have. Give it time!

At least twelve staff can sign basic stuff now, such as directions to the platforms, informing of delays, stuff about Oysters, passes and so on. Its a very slow process because the only time this can be done is in the station itself, there isn’t a huge room available for all the staff to get together and learn studiously.

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A selection of the station’s BSL tweeted videos.

Each staff member learns one or two basic signs during their breaks and there are indications the station’s manager is too becoming fluent! He knows how to sign ‘see you later alligator!’ Some of the others know how to sign ‘nice to meet you’ or bus, or delays on the tube, platform numbers that sort of thing. Their latest attempt is ‘inclusion and diversity’ which is part of the station’s campaign to show it accepts anyone of any sort and of any genre.

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Peter about to sign ‘I’ (as in I’m happy to meet you.)

Its quite difficult to get people to learn sign and most want to know the silly, even the rude stuff, first before any proper sort of signing enters the domain. It does in fact get people’s enthusiasm going. To be honest I don’t think any of the staff actually know any rude stuff – maybe I should just try testing them!

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The one who can say ‘bus!’ (He knows a bit more but its fav sign I think!)

What is most unusual is its a staff initiative not a TfL initiative. Its not thought that TfL actually sends any staff on courses despite their assertions staff receive training on deafness, autism and other disabilities. Staff are encouraged to develop skills that will enhance their relations with the tube passengers (sorry I know its customers but I prefer the old term because I think its more appropriate) so the art of learning sign language is an ideal pathway towards this.

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Practising the signing for ‘cake.’

Charlie has been working at Piccadilly Circus for two years – not that I knew as I don’t generally take much notice of TfL staff, and yes, I do use Piccadilly Circus tube station quite a bit. Alas he has been promoted and is moving to a different tube station fairly soon, so it remains to be seen whether the other staff will continue the trend.

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A further selection of the station’s BSL tweeted videos.

This work at Piccadilly Circus is just a rudimentary introduction to a few words of signing and fingerspelling and its up to the individuals whether they want to learn more by enrolling on a course in their home area. Its not a professional endeavour and is not meant to be. I say that in case anyone is thinking of criticising this great initiative.

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Charlie helping out a Spanish tourist.

In terms of developing this great initiative further, its actually up to TfL, their employer. I have been given to understand at various points over the years that TfL does do deaf awareness and sign language training, but sadly I have never really seen any benefits from this. For me then, this is the best I have seen so far on the tube network in terms of people learning the basics of sign language and its thanks to Charlie.

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Thanks for the great effort guys! You did brilliant!

Whether TfL could afford to pay for all the staff to go on proper courses is another matter as its coffers are often described as being in a bad way. That’s why they’ve got shot of RV1 and are slashing other bus routes to the bone. Though it can obviously pay their top staff huge bonuses without any second thoughts!

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