1,000 community rail volunteers poised to play a key role in the Midlands and East Covid recovery

Members of a grassroots rail movement have continued to strive for communities across the Midlands and work towards a greener transport future, despite the pandemic, and are looking forward to supporting local recovery.

Figures from Community Rail Network’s Community Rail – Midlands and East report – sponsored by Rail Delivery Group – released today (24 March) highlight that more than 1,000 volunteers give 46,000 hours annually to support social inclusion, sustainable and healthy travel, wellbeing, economic development, and tourism in their local area, valued at £3.9 million.

Making up fourteen community rail partnerships and 160 station groups across the Midlands, they engage local people with their railways and stations, working with train operators, local authorities and other partners.

Across the Midlands, groups are involved in community gardening, food growing and biodiversity projects on station land; the creation of heritage boards or community artwork to help people learn about and take pride in their area; volunteering at stations to create a safe and attractive environment for passengers; work with rail industry partners towards improvements, such as better shelters, signage or pedestrian and cyclist access; and running events, workshops and activities to promote sustainable travel, bring people together, and celebrate the local community.

Community rail partnerships and groups have continued to support communities and local resilience efforts during the pandemic (see below). They are now looking forward to playing a pivotal role in building back better from Covid, helping our railways to be a vital component of a greener, more inclusive way forward as part of a ‘green recovery’.

Community rail in action across the Midlands:

At the start of the pandemic, East Midlands Railway worked with Derwent Valley Line, North Staffordshire and Poacher Line Community Rail Partnerships, and the Friends of Beeston Station to support and donate £7,500 to food banks across the region to support families who were facing difficulties due to the pandemic.

The Heart of England Community Rail Partnership launched their ‘Coventry Acts of Kindness initiative’, designed to make people feel welcome at stations and encourage them to not view train travel as something to be intimidated by. The initiative also offered people the opportunity to focus on their mental wellbeing and discuss any concerns over the impacts of Covid-19 on them. The partnership also supported local businesses during the lockdowns through their website, which became an online hub of local information and support networks, including an inventory of smaller businesses offering services during lockdown, listed by their nearest rail station.

Other groups are progressing gardening and biodiversity projects as part of a green recovery. The Friends of Radcliffe Station’s 25 regular volunteers have agreed plans for the design and planting of a large garden on one of the station platforms, which will see local schools and youth groups getting involved as well as the village community garden group who will plant and grow vegetables on the station for a local community kitchen that supports those in need.

Jools Townsend, chief executive of Community Rail Network, said: “Community rail works to make our railways community-minded and inclusive, and promotes sustainable travel by rail, bringing people together and bolstering local pride and wellbeing. In the Midlands, community rail partnerships and groups have adapted and responded, supporting communities through the pandemic, maintaining positivity, and advising rail partners on shifting local needs.

“As we start to rebuild from Covid, within the community rail movement, and across our railways, we will be redoubling efforts, to create confidence and togetherness, and help more people to get around by socially and environmentally responsible means. Community rail is all about communities and connectedness, and people working together locally to make things better for each other and our shared future – that couldn’t be more important right now.”

Robert Nisbet, director of nations and regions at the Rail Delivery Group, said: “The railway is at the heart of local communities and the fantastic initiatives by community rail volunteers in the Midlands and East of England play to its strengths, connecting people up and down the country. As we recover from the pandemic, getting more people back on trains will be vital to boost local economies and the environment, so the support of community rail will be more important than ever.”

Donna Adams, community engagement manager at East Midlands Railway, added: “Community Rail can have a real impact on and beyond the railway. It brings a sense of pride and enables people to come together to make a difference at their local railway station and benefit their community. Helping to improve gateways to towns and villages it can create a community support network, which in turn delivers economic and social benefits.”