Colouring book aims to make rail travel more enjoyable for neurodiverse children

A new colouring book will be made available at railway stations for children to take with them on their train journeys, with a particular aim of helping those with autism and anxiety feel more relaxed when travelling.

Artist Matt Jones teamed up with the Bittern Line CRP and Wherry Lines CRP, Greater Anglia, the Lowestoft Central Project, and Norfolk & Waveney MIND charity to publish the ‘Bouncing Brains Happy Travel’ books. The books will be available free of charge at several railway stations and other outlets, following a launch event and family Colouring Day being held at Lowestoft Station between 11am and 3pm on Saturday 12 August.

Matt worked with Norfolk & Waveney MIND, based in Norwich, to develop the ‘Emotion Tracker’ on the back of the book. The ‘Emotion Tracker’ contains a drawing of a railway track, with three brain characters above it, each feeling different emotions – ‘Happy’, ‘Ok’ and ‘Not So Great’. Children are encouraged to colour a piece of the track under one of the three states of emotions before they start their journey, and then colour another piece of track when they arrive at their destination.

Bouncing Brains was devised by artist Matt following a rail journey. Matt said: “I was invited by a friend to go to Colchester for a day out to help care for two people with autism. We started off in the town, where we met a former carer. We chatted and I explained to him that I had some anxiety issues about travelling to big cities. He then told me that a big problem for people with anxiety and people who suffer with mental health conditions is they either don’t travel well or don’t travel at all. This got me thinking…

“When I travel by train, I take my sketchbook and pens to keep me occupied and this works for me. Early one morning, I’d gone out for a ride on my bike. I often take a sketch book with me so when the idea came to me about a colouring book called Bouncing Brains, I quickly drew a sketch. On my way home I passed the Dragon Fly mental health children’s unit near Lowestoft, popped in to say hi, and after a quick chat about the idea, I went home and used the computer to make a draft concept book.

“During a chance meeting at Lowestoft Station with Community Rail Norfolk’s Development Officer, I explained the concept of the colouring book. This led to a commission and funding, and we now have some ten thousand copies to give away, support from the rail industry and we are holding a Giant Colouring Day at Lowestoft station to launch the initiative. T

“The aim of the book is to help anyone, but the underlying focus is on children who have ADHD, Bipolar, Depression or suffer from Anxiety. If I can help anyone get onto a train and not have issues with anxiety through the medium of art using these colouring books, I will be very pleased.”

“I would like to think we can do a series of books, all related to travel and getting out and about. The first one features the Greater Anglia hare mascot with trains that look like giant pencils, sheep and even a fish finger on a bike as a nod to Lowestoft’s fishing industry, all in my unique style.”

Alan Neville, Greater Anglia’s Customer and Community Engagement Manager, said: “This is a great initiative which I am sure will be very popular during the summer holidays when many families choose to have a great day out by train. For many children, taking the train is an adventure in itself and the book will add an extra layer of fun. For those that find travelling difficult, it aims to offer an opportunity for relaxation during the journey and I would like to thank everyone involved for turning this lovely idea into a reality.”

Martin Halliday, Development Officer at Community Rail Norfolk, said: “We are delighted to have supported Matt in this project and to have funded the printing of the superb Bouncing Brains Happy Travels colouring books. The initiative was welcomed by Greater Anglia’s Accessibility and Inclusion Manager who has offered to make the books available across their network.

“Making travel by rail as accessible as possible is very important to both the Bittern Line and Wherry Lines Community Rail Partnerships and we are looking forward to the special launch event hosted by the Lowestoft Central Project at Lowestoft station on 12 August.”

The Bouncing Brains colouring book is designed to last for around 45 minutes of good quality colouring time. The books will be free to take from specially designed display units which will be at selected stations and other outlets where anyone can take a copy.