Alumni profile: James Bonehill

Support from his lecturers helped James to publish his research on mobility and discover a career in transport consultancy.

5 min read

James Bonehill


Something that I find necessary can be someone else’s barrier to accessing society... this started my interest in (im)mobility and disability studies.


An interest in accessibility

While studying for my BA (Hons) Geography degree at Plymouth, I took a real interest in Professor Shaw’s Transport Geographies module. As part of this, we had to undertake a journey and record our experiences. I chose to do this on the London Underground and, to my surprise, found it quite an eye-opening experience.

I witnessed a visually impaired passenger struggling to use the tube – not just boarding and alighting the train, but also navigating the station and using the maps.

Until that moment I had never thought about how difficult it must be for people with disabilities to use public transport.

Something that I find necessary can be someone else’s barrier to accessing society (in the social, cultural and political spheres). This started my interest in (im)mobility and disability studies.

Throughout my second year, as I read further into disability studies, I found that it was not just about the physical accessibility of buildings or public transport; people with disabilities are also subject to social exclusion in terms of members of the public staring at them, heightening their feelings of anxiety and insecurity.

When I was asked to think of my dissertation research project, it was clear to me that I needed to focus within this area.

I wanted to find out what people with disabilities felt when they were out and about.

Having read work on video ethnographies, I decided that conducting one was the way to go about this.

From idea to published article

The support from my lecturers (Nadia von Benzon and Jon Shaw) started before I submitted my dissertation topic idea.

They provided advice on the concepts I devised and encouraged me to pursue my research, despite the hurdles I had to overcome to work with a disability organisation. I received many rejections.

After my dissertation results had been released, my lecturers had a conversation about taking my research further and we began to discuss the idea of publishing my work.

I was delighted because, for me, although having my work published was a huge personal (and professional) achievement, it was a massive step forward for the organisation I worked with, who felt like their voices were finally being heard.

The write-up process was a lot more challenging than I thought it would be. My whole dissertation needed to be re-written to suit the style of a journal article and we approached the data from a slightly different academic perspective.

Again, my lecturers’ guidance as experienced authors was invaluable. I was also surprised at the length of the review process with the publishers, but the feedback we received really helped to improve the article.


A career in transport

My interest in transport at university drove me to pursue this in my career. I am currently a Consultant at North Star Consultancy, a transport operations and customer service consultancy with offices in London, Dubai and Sydney.

Although my work with clients is varied, my main duties involve supporting client bids for multi-million and multi-billion-pound contracts where they have to demonstrate their capability and experience in operating transport networks. I am lucky to have worked a lot in Dubai and have also supported clients in Australia and Israel remotely from the UK.

As part of my role on bids, I need to craft clear and coherent delivery plans that address the requirements of the letting authority using information and examples provided by my clients (e.g., case study material and their solutions).

In essence, writing these plans is similar to writing university essays, which my time at Plymouth ultimately prepared me for.

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