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Culture along the line

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From the start of the railway age, Britain’s railway stations have been part of the nation’s social fabric. Today, the realities of transport economics have rendered many impressive station buildings surplus to operational requirements. Yet much is being done to ensure that these otherwise redundant facilities can, once again, become part of the community.

This work is supported by the Association of Community Rail Partnerships (ACoRP), which was formed in 1997 with the support of the Department for Transport (DfT), Welsh Government and Transport Scotland, as well as rail industry bodies. There are now more than 50 community rail partnerships, hundreds of ‘station friends’ and adoption groups making great use of railway buildings and creating an interest in the railway.

The Railway Heritage Trust (RHT) also provides expert advice and grant funding. Other sources of funding are the Scotland’s Stations Community Regeneration Fund (SCRF) and, south of the border, the Designated Community Rail Development Fund (DCRDF), administered by ACoRP. After the Scottish Government required the ScotRail franchise to provide SCRF funding, the DfT required its franchises to adopt a similar approach.

Scottish station restorations

As a result, throughout Britain there are numerous examples of imaginative uses being made of old stations. John Yellowlees received a ScotRail outstanding contribution award for almost single-handedly building up the company’s Adopt-a-Station scheme. John, who recently retired from his external relations manager’s post to become ScotRail’s first honorary rail ambassador, advised that the purpose of this scheme is ‘to put the station at the heart of the community, leaving a good impression with the people who pass through on their journeys’.

A good example is the near half-million-pound investment to create the Kilmarnock Station Community Village from seven previously empty rooms. This opened in 2015 when it won a Scottish regeneration award and includes a café, second-hand bookshop and the Glasgow & South Western Railway Association archives.

Until recently, Gleneagles station had been unoccupied for 30 years after it became an unstaffed station. Now one of its former Caledonian Railway’s grand rooms is the headquarters of an event management company. In February, this was the venue for an event at which Andy Savage, the RHT’s executive director, explained how communities and businesses can transform railway stations into thriving business hubs.

Lynette Gray in her converted signalbox.
Lynette Gray in her converted signalbox.

Of all the community rail initiatives, a perhaps unique initiative is the the Artline, which encompasses eight stations north of the Forth Bridge. This was formed in 2015 to showcase the restored art and heritage buildings on the railway through Fife between North Queensferry and Cupar. Its founder, artist Lynette Grey, explains how the Artline publicises the work done at these stations through adverts, brochures and its website (www.theartline.co.uk) which is supported by ScotRail’s cultural and arts fund. Artline also organises an annual doors open weekend which this year was held on 29 and 30 April. Keen to learn more, RailStaff was there.

Fife’s Artline stations

North Queensferry, at the end of the Forth Bridge, is the first station on the Artline for those travelling from Edinburgh. This has recently been refurbished to its original Victorian style and now houses a café, community meeting room and exhibition gallery, featuring the Forth bridge and other memorabilia. These facilities are run by the North Queensferry Station Trust. During the open weekend, local artists Karen Trotter and Lucie Macaulay were exhibiting artwork in the community room.

Inverkeithing is in contrast a generally modern station. Here the art on display is in the waiting room. These are the 22 posters of artwork, poems and fictional historical conversations that depict stations, iconic buildings, historical events and people on the Fife circle line, which won a community rail award in 2014. These received funding from Fife community arts, whilst ScotRail paid for the posters to be printed and mounted.

Aberdour’s well-tendered flower beds have helped win the station many ‘best kept station’ awards. Its redundant signal box is Lynette Gray’s latest project. Its operating room now houses a small painting studio, whilst the downstairs locking room is now a ceramic workshop. This conversion was completed four days before the open weekend and has been supported by the RHT and SCRF. A start has been made on the creation of a heritage centre at the station, which is expected to be completed in the Autumn..

Aberdour’s converted signalbox.

Burntisland used to be the start of the line to Dundee. From 1850 until the opening of the Forth Bridge in 1890, the world’s first train ferry ran between here and Granton, in Edinburgh. As a result, the station had some derelict buildings by the harbour which, in 2012, were subject to a £2.2 million refurbishment programme by the Fife Historic Buildings Trust. This converted the old platform buildings into artists’ studios and provided office accommodation in the old station house, built in 1847. Artist Susy Kirk specialises in painting on silk, she has occupied one of these offices for 18 months.

Suzy Kirk in her Burntisland studio.
Suzy Kirk in her Burntisland studio.

Kinghorn station’s empty rooms were converted into a gallery and studios by artists Lynette and Douglas Gray under the ‘adopt a station scheme’. This followed a two-year restoration supported by the RHT and SCRF. At the open weekend, Douglas was displaying his watercolours of Fife scenes in his studio whilst the Kinghorn Historical Society had an exhibition in the gallery below.

Kirkcaldy’s modern station features a Fife dialect poem cut into a sheet of linoleum, a product with its sweet smell, for which the town became famous. It is still produced in the town. Immediately adjacent to the modern station is the Kirkcaldy Galleries, which includes paintings by the Scottish Colourists.

Ladybank is a historic station of Italianate design. Since 2009, its old station restaurant has been occupied by Kirsty Lorenz following her adoption of the station with the support of the RHT. Kirsty specialises in flowers and was the first artist on the line. She runs occasional workshops and a weekly art class in her studio. The adjacent station house forms the Off the Rails Arthouse which was established by a group of local artists in 2011. This hosts a wide range of events including bi-monthly poetry readings. During the weekend, Claire Heminsley was making collages, whilst Kathy Watts demonstrated bead jewellery making.

Kathy Watts demonstrates bead jewellery making at Ladybank’s Arthouse

Cupar was one of the first stations to benefit from a SCRF grant. This supported the transformation of the old station master’s flat into a heritage centre which opened in 2012. In summer, the centre is open during weekends and Wednesdays to tell the story of the Burgh of Cupar, former County Town of Fife and seat of justice.

Always something to see

A railway journey from Edinburgh, over the Forth Bridge, along the Firth of Forth’s shoreline and through Fife is an attractive trip with much to see, of which the Artline’s eight stations are a particular attraction. Whilst the open weekend showed these eight stations at their best, its website shows there is always something to see along its 33-mile line between North Queensferry and Cupar. These venues are, of course, best visited by rail, with an off-peak day return allowing the journey to be broken as required.

Restored Burntisland station buildings.
Restored Burntisland station buildings.

This article was written by David Shirres. 

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