Concept and aims
Essex and South Suffolk Community Rail Partnership (CRP) has been working with Refugee, Asylum Seeker, and Migrant Action (RAMA) since 2021. RAMA provides services to vulnerable people from over 100 countries, with recent support given to families and individuals evacuated from Afghanistan and displaced by conflict in Ukraine.
The project began with the offer of supported, inclusive access to rail travel, to allow people to leave their base in Colchester and explore and learn about the area. At that time, many individuals and families were in temporary accommodation and faced barriers to settling into UK life. The aims were to combine a positive experience of rail with practical tips on how to travel safely.
The CRP worked in partnership with RAMA to understand the types of trips and experiences that would be of the most benefit for their service users, who range from single young men and women to families with children.
The CRP has a strong track record in running a variety of different ‘themed trains’, such as its popular ‘bucket and spade’ trains, and is experienced in using rail as a vehicle for inspiring days out. Using this knowledge, they devised a series of tailored trips for different RAMA service users. This included a family-friendly day trip to Clacton-on-Sea, where children enjoyed painting and drawing alongside seeing the beach and the Essex coastline for the first time. Another trip focused on young adults and the promotion of safe, independent travel, with participants learning about rail safety as they enjoyed a ‘try the train’ trip from Colchester to Harwich.
While on the train, the groups are instructed on practical journey planning skills such as buying tickets, navigating stations, accessing help points, and planning routes and change trains. The social aspect of the trips is vital, and those within the groups often form friendships while visiting attractions or taking part in arts and crafts.
As of April 2023, the CRP had run eight trips with RAMA, supporting refugees and asylum seekers from a wide range of backgrounds. For the majority, the trips are the first time they travel by train in the UK and have the opportunity to access the countryside and coast, and RAMA staff speak of the “joy, happiness, and excitement” the experience brings to those they support.
The partnership’s relationship with RAMA is just one strand of the work the CRP does to engage marginalised and vulnerable groups. Other trips include special services for those living with dementia and families supported by Barnardo’s.