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Made in Norfolk

PUBLISHED: 07:33 14 April 2014

Copyright   Albanpix.com-Picture by Alban Donohoe
 Sunday Telegraph's business pages
 Ali Clabburn, founder of Liftshare, the UK's largest ride-sharing network in his office in Norwich

Copyright Albanpix.com-Picture by Alban Donohoe Sunday Telegraph's business pages Ali Clabburn, founder of Liftshare, the UK's largest ride-sharing network in his office in Norwich

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When Ali Clabburn reached the end of his first term at university and realised he didn’t have enough money for the train fare home he pinned a message on a student noticeboard, begging for a lift back to Norwich.

Within a day he’d had three responses – and a business idea which became one of the world’s first social networks and now links hundreds of thousands of commuters all over the country.

Ali began matching other students requesting and offering lifts, before working with a friend to put the business on-line. Within months of leaving university he launched Liftshare from a spare bedroom in his parents’ Attleborough house. Today the social enterprise has more than 600,000 members and co-ordinates a million journeys a month, ranging from short commutes to weekly or monthly journeys and even international trips.

And the company, launched on the cusp of the 21st century, has hit the zeitgeist again, as part of a phenomenon dubbed “the sharing economy”.

“It’s amazing how current this is now,” says Ali, who believes this is partly due to people economising, and partly to a new openness to sharing. As the youngest of four children, Ali says he grew up with enforced sharing! Travelling abroad as a teenager he was impressed by the generosity of strangers, and longed to see it in Britain.

“It’s not hitch-hiking,” he explains. “You are not just jumping into a car with a random stranger. Typically people might meet for a coffee first. But although they might start off just sharing a lift, they often make friends.”

There have even been Liftshare marriages!

Liftshare is free to join and a typical member saves on average around £1,000. Major companies including Tesco, the BBC and Centrica use Liftshare. Last year it moved into offices in central Norwich where the workplace brims with Google-HQ type of fun including a slide and a swing for staff.

Despite being a national brand, Liftshare is grounded in Norfolk.

“My heart, and the heart of everyone here, is very much in Norfolk,” says Ali. “It would take a lot to move us! There are plenty of good, clever people here.”

With staffing, and membership, increasing, Ali’s dream is to make it the norm for people to share the costs, convenience and companionship of motoring.

His success has won him many accolades, but he is most proud of the comments from customers. “It was amazing to meet the Queen, and the prime minister, and to win the many awards we have won, but I am even more proud of the messages from people thanking us for making their lives better, saving them a fortune, or enabling to get a dream job,” says Ali. “Liftshare started as a way of solving my problem. I love seeing it solving other people’s problems.”

Liftshare, 4 Duke Street, Norwich, NR3 3AJ; 01603 389321; www.liftshare.com

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