The Association of Community Rail Partnerships (ACoRP) is now a central feature of railway planning and policy. Community rail is shouting louder, drumming up ridership and fulfilling a central role in the drama of rail revival nationally. That’s the message from this year’s Community Rail Awards at Torquay.
Overall winner was the Mid Cheshire Community Rail Partnership. Together with Petty Pool College, the Delamere station project, ‘Involving Young People,’ was singled out for special praise. This is typical of a growing pattern among CRPs and station adopters of involving people not easily accommodated by the conventional jobs market.
The rail industry is readily embracing the need to be socially responsible and to better engage with the communities it serves. In ACoRP, the industry enjoys a ready made avenue of expertise bringing railway businesses, stakeholders and people closer together. Many supporters of ACoRP were concerned that there may have been a change of direction, politically, following the last election. However, the new administration has embraced community rail with the same eagerness with which it supports railways generally.
Neil Buxton, ACoRP’s general manager, paid tribute to this, singling out the Department for Transport (DfT) for special thanks. ‘It’s the DfT’s belief in us and their continuing efforts to ensure that we have sufficient funding – I might add, against considerable odds – that enables us to keep fighting your corner and pushing the boundaries of community rail, which is now recognised as an integral part of rail policy.’
Not only is money for community rail coming in from government but train companies are much more deeply involved. ‘Money is now beginning to be made available through the new franchises, giving us previously unimagined opportunities to expand and develop,’ said Neil. ‘We need to grab this with both hands and show that the faith in our sector is not misplaced.’
Neil urged people involved in community rail to expand their range of ideas and initiatives. ‘CRPs need to start getting deeper into communities, influencing other areas such as education, employment and land-use planning. Social enterprise is another area we should look at and DfT are very supportive of the role that station adoption and community stations can play in developing community businesses.’
ACoRP is expanding its role and working to influence other government departments. Community rail doesn’t just provide transport improvements but enables smaller communities to access goods and services, and to thrive and survive.
2015 has been a busy year for ACoRP as the strength of entries for the awards shows. Next year will be better still.
Present at Torquay were representatives of local transport groups in Aachen, Germany, and the Loire Valley in France. Community rail is proving a box-office success in Britain and attracting increased international recognition.
Best is West
The Devon and Cornwall Rail Partnership won three prizes at the Community Rail Awards.
Says Richard Burningham from the Devon & Cornwall Rail Partnership, ‘These awards show the real breadth of work that takes place to promote our railways – from innovative marketing campaigns, to working with local school children, to learning from our continental colleagues. Congratulations to all involved.
‘By working in partnership, we’re attracting more and more passengers and building stronger links between the railway and the community.’
The ‘Great Scenic Railways Campaign’ won the Rail Media-backed ‘Best Marketing Campaign’ award. The project included the GreatScenicRailways.com website, a stall at London Paddington and an impressive advertising campaign. This led to a 40 per cent jump in website traffic for the Devon & Cornwall Rail Partnership in their work to attract more tourists to the region.
The family-friendly Minibeast Trail on the Riviera Line between Exeter and Torbay was awarded third place in the Small Community Art Schemes category.
Working with artist Melissa Muldoon, pupils from Gatehouse Primary School in Dawlish and the Sure Start Dad’s Club Stay and Play in Teignmouth made sculptures of butterflies, dragonflies, bees, ladybirds and snails which were displayed on planters at Teignmouth, Dawlish, Newton Abbot, Torquay and Paignton stations.
The Riviera Line’s EU Citizens Rail project was recognised with third prize in the Outstanding Teamwork category. Locally the project delivered improvements to stations, additional services between Newton Abbot and Paignton, and work to engage school children and volunteers along the line. Partners from France, Germany and the Netherlands collaborated on all of these activities, lending their ideas and support, and even donating Dutch tulips to brighten local station gardens.
A Big Hand for Handforth
Friends of Handforth Station celebrates 20 years in the railway business in 2016. The success of the group demonstrates what’s possible when the community rail movement gets to work.
Handforth Station, which celebrates its 175th anniversary next year, sits on the Manchester – Crewe line. By the early 1990s, the station was a vandalised eyesore – slated like the rest of the railway for managed decline and closure.
Says Andrew Backhouse, secretary of the Friends of Handforth Station, ‘20 years ago, our station building was falling down, staff were withdrawn, and it looked like it was going to close completely. So a group was formed to campaign and take some action themselves.
‘Much of the work might appear to be about being a platform for art to make the station attractive, but for me, the most important things have been to keep it open, smarter, with more regular services, greater usage, better access and better information.’
Community involvement has kept the station open and brought together school children, senior citizens, rotarians, scouts and guides.
Staff on stations are essential. ‘Who wants an automatic ticket machine, no one to ask about times and a dirty station with run down buildings?’ Andrew Backhouse says.
Staff were reintroduced by First North Western, making do with a portable building. Then came a new ticket office, built in 2001. Now the station is staffed by Northern Rail, and local businesses help support the numerous initiatives underway. The station looks smart and welcoming.
There’s little chance of missing the stop as Handforth station has signs donated by various railways, including the SNCF, Irish Railways, Metrolink, Dublin DART, Isle of Man, London Underground and Strathclyde PTE. Even if the SNCF wanted to call there it would have a hard job fitting in between the now half- hourly service.
In 2014, Handforth hosted Theatre in the Quarter’s award winning ‘Over by Christmas’ show using local school children and a series of volunteer singers and actors from across Cheshire.
The performance reminded everyone that people went off to war convinced it would be finished quickly. Eight local descendants of soldiers were invited to the performance.
Says Andrew, ‘They spoke movingly of the importance of the friendships their parents and grandparents had found in Handforth, the value of knowing how alike we are across countries and the importance now of working together in Europe.’
Railway communities like Friends of Handforth Station not only improve the local railway but bring people together and bridge the generation gap. Next year promises to be a grand occasion at Handforth Station.
Written by Andy Milne.