Emma Harrison, 17, is the first female apprentice to join the Severn Valley Railway (SVR) along with four other new recruits at the Heritage Skills Training Academy.
Says Emma, ‘I decided to apply and see where it took me. I was extremely happy and overjoyed to get the place and as soon as I got off the phone, I was straight back on the phone to my mum, dad, gran and my granddad, who was so proud of me.’
The Harrison family has a history of involvement with railways which Emma will be taking forward this year along with Alan Brookes, 19, from Stourbridge, Tom Hubble, 20, from Birmingham, and Dean Parkin, 17, and Ryan Parsons, 20, who have moved up from Launceston in Cornwall and Wimborne in Dorset. All five apprentices beat off stiff competition to be chosen from dozens of enthusiastic applicants.
Emma’s late grandfather was a member of the Gloucester and Worcester Railway, as well as a financial supporter of the SVR. The family has been supportive of railways for many years. Family holidays regularly included trips to various heritage railways, such as the Talyllyn Railway, where Emma has been a volunteer since 2011. She has worked with locomotive crews on early morning starts, cleaning the engines and seeing them out of the shed for their day’s running.
Says Emma, from Wolverhampton, ‘It was normal that a family holiday would include at least one trip on a railway and it’s still true today that we always manage to find a railway to go on, even when abroad.’ It was through her grandmother that Emma found out about the HSTA after she received a leaflet and passed it on to Emma, who then did her own research.
The pilot HSTA scheme has been successfully working with three apprentices since September 2013 in the build up to its official launch in September 2014. The new recruits are set to follow in their footsteps, learning the skills associated with running a steam railway.
The academy is now looking to recruit five new trainees each year.
The academy is one of a range of key projects financed by the fundraising efforts of the SVR Charitable Trust (SVRCT) and the SVR’s Share Offer scheme. The Charitable Trust was launched in 2012 to raise vital funds to assist in the preservation and operation of the railway. Through initiatives such as the HSTA, the SVR hopes to become the UK’s Heritage Engineering centre of excellence.
Says Shelagh Paterson, fundraising manager for the SVRCT, ‘Thanks to the incredible generosity of individuals and grants, the Charitable Trust is delighted to be able to financially support the academy and invest in the future of the Severn Valley Railway.
With an ever-ageing workforce, it is essential for the future of the SVR that the skills needed to maintain heritage railways are passed on to the next generation and not lost. The apprentice scheme will imbue them with traditional methods of working, and train them in the essential skills of locomotive fitting, boiler making, carriage joinery, maintenance and restoration as well as the restoration of heritage buildings.’