‘A weight was lifted off my shoulders’: How a new mum left her betting shop job to become a train driver

After becoming a mother for the first time a woman from Croydon gave up her job at a betting shop to pursue her dream as a train driver.

In 2021, Elba Lovelace-Francis, 32, of West Croydon, was working at the William Hill betting shop in Camberwell Road, Denmark Hill, when she found out she was pregnant.

Working long hours late into the night, Ms Lovelace-Francis said the job was not “feasible” for a new mum, and resigned.

She said: “When my daughter turned one I saw an application for a trainee driver role being promoted by a career returners scheme on Twitter.

“I thought, how am I going to do this with a new baby, but I applied.”

After almost 18 months out of work, in August 2023, Ms Lovelace-Francis started her training to become a train driver at Southern Rail. 

Career Returners is an organisation that works with employers to support people back into work after extended career breaks.

Ms Lovelace-Francis said: “It was really daunting – my daughter hadn’t been to nursery before and she was going to have to start a little earlier than normal.

“I had to find one that was suitable and close enough so she could get settled in before I started.

“She loves the nursery so it was a great decision.”

Ms Lovelace-Francis said her training has a steady schedule, from 9am to 5pm between Monday and Friday.

After almost 18 months out of work Ms Lovelace-Francis started training to become a train driver at Southern Rail (Picture: Govia Thameslink Railway)

She said: “It was like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders.”

Almost twice as many working mothers as fathers have considered leaving their jobs because of the burden of childcare, according to research by Opinium, commissioned by women’s rights group the Fawcett Society and Totaljobs last year.

The survey of 3,000 parents with children under four found that new mothers disproportionately feel the strain of balancing childcare and work, which affects their finances, careers and aspirations.

Ms Lovelace-Francis said: “Being a mum for the first time, you’re worried about leaving your baby for the first time.

“It’s not guilt but it’s something a lot of women have on their mind at the start. At my previous job I knew I wouldn’t have that time.”

Ms Lovelace-Francis is the only woman in her group at the training programme but said all her colleagues have children and understand the “pick-ups and drop-offs”.

Set to complete her driving school at the end of March, Ms Lovelace-Francis said she “can’t wait” to drive a train without supervision.

Pictured top: Elba Lovelace-Francis is four months away from fully qualifying as a train driver for Southern Rail (Picture: Govia Thameslink Railway)

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