This is an account of social media fulfilling its potential to do good in the world, at a time when that message is especially important. By Chris Lee.
Early in March I left my prized Alpkit sleeping bag - the one that kept me warm while cycling across Canada - on a train bound for Newcastle.
I'd thought it was a train bound for York until we'd been sitting in York station for about thirty seconds. The next three seconds involved me realising the train was about to move; that if it did I'd miss my important and imminent meeting; and that I had to get myself and my stuff out of the train sharpish.
The sleeping bag was mistakenly abandoned in the frantic fluster that followed.
"Bugger", I thought, when I noticed its absence after the train departed. Bound, irretrievably, for Newcastle.
I asked the platform attendant where to report lost luggage. "Try the ticket office", she offered.
I asked the ticket office if I could report lost luggage. "Try the kiosk", they countered. "We're LNER, you need TransPennine". The first allusion to the multi-company rigmarole I was about to encounter.
I asked the kiosk if I could report lost luggage. "Sure. What was it? What did it look like? Which train? Where did you get on? Which coach? Which seat?" They noted everything down in a book, and told me to wait for a call.
Which I did, all morning. The prescribed time came and went, while images of my suspicious sleeping bag package being detonated by The British Transport Police filled my mind. "See it. Say it. Sorted."
I took to Twitter in an attempt to expedite things. LNER put me in touch with TransPennine, because they operated the train I'd been on. TransPennine put me back in touch with LNER, because they manage the station at Newcastle. LNER put me in touch with Northern, because they manage Manchester Victoria where I'd joined the service.
By the end of this I had the call sign of the train when I'd been on board, it's new call sign, it's current location, and various other bits of information. But no further information on the location of my sleeping bag.
Then, later in the afternoon as I was beginning to abandon hope: "Chris, great news! We've got it! I've just spoken to the conductor and he's now back in Newcastle so it must have been on a trip today!"
I was elated. Getting it home from Newcastle was the next logistical challenge, preferably without me having to go and collect it in person: A return ticket to Newcastle from home costs about the same as the sleeping bag did new.
So this time I took to Facebook, and more specifically to The Yes Tribe: An excellent bunch of people with the tagline "where strangers are just friends waiting to happen".
"This is very ambitious", I typed. "But here goes."
I wrote a post recounting the spiel above, then asked if anyone living near the station could pick it up and send it down to me. "I will of course pay for the postage and add the price of two pints (or equivalent treat) for your troubles."
The silence I expected was short-lived. "I have a friend who will be passing through Newcastle late tomorrow evening so could potentially pick it up?" "I can pick it up on Wednesday / Thursday if you’ve not found anyone yet." "I'm going to Newcastle next weekend so can if no one has got it by Saturday!"
The offers poured in. Seven people, formerly strangers, all willing to go out of their way to help. A few days later the postman handed me my sleeping bag, safe and sound.
The YesTribe was founded in 2015 by Dave Cornthwaite, who by then had spent a decade being led by a personal motto, ‘say yes more’. Dave dropped me a line after seeing the sleeping bag post and was delighted to hear it had been returned safely. Dave said, “If there was ever a vision for the YesTribe, it would be that its members were mirrors of those trail or river angels who once helped me, a stranger, when I momentarily passed through their lives in the midst of a personal adventure. My belief in humanity was refreshed at each encounter, and now The YesTribe has blossomed into a community that puts kindness and decency first, whether in the midst of an exciting adventure, or the hardest times in life, or like this, a little moment where making someone’s day depends entirely on you willingly offering a few minutes of your day to help someone you’ve never met before.
“It should be noted that Graham, the YesTriber who helped return the sleeping bag to you, got in touch and said he’d like to donate the postage fee you’re sending him to the YesTribe. We’ll gladly put it towards a fund to buy a sleeping bag for someone who wants to go camping, but can’t afford the gear”