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Community-led initiatives across the South West making the rail network ‘More Than a Railway’

A Somerset station with a thriving social enterprise café, cycling hub and community nature garden is hosting the launch of a nationwide campaign, showcasing grassroots activity helping communities get the most from their railways.

Yatton Station, outside Bristol, has been a site for volunteering and positive social change for 20 years, ensuring its place at the heart of the community, benefiting the local environment and people’s lives. Yatton is one of 178 stations across the South West ‘adopted’ by volunteer groups (with 1,167 volunteers between them) and is supported by Severnside Community Rail Partnership, one of 20 community-led organisations across the region promoting and enabling sustainable and inclusive travel and giving communities a voice on rail.

The Community Rail Week launch at Yatton Station. Yatton, Somerset. May 20 2024.

The ‘More Than a Railway’ campaign, marking this year’s Community Rail Week, 20-26 May, will involve nearly 100 community activities nationwide, including 20 across the South West. These wide-ranging activities increase access to opportunity, help communities to have a voice on rail, bolster sustainable travel and tourism, tackle social isolation, and put railways and stations at the heart of community life. The week offers a snapshot of year-round community rail initiatives, which are run in partnership with the rail industry and community partners, engaging over 35,000 people annually across the region.

Community Rail Week is organised by Community Rail Network, a national not-for-profit organisation supporting community involvement with rail, and sponsored by Rail Delivery Group.

Jools Townsend, chief executive of Community Rail Network, said: “Rail can be much more than a mode of travel: a catalyst for positive change, unlocking opportunities, connecting communities, and enabling climate-friendly mobility. The community rail movement – which is thriving and delivering so much across the South West – shows how communities and railways, and the wider transport sector, can work together with amazing results, enhancing local places and changing lives. From engaging young people on travel confidence, to advising train operators on accessibility and inclusion, to active travel and bus-rail integration, to community gardens and social enterprises at stations: community rail is playing a growing role in the region, harnessing the power of rail to create a more connected, inclusive, sustainable future.”

The Community Rail Week launch at Yatton Station. Yatton, Somerset. May 20 2024.

Volunteer Hayden said: “Every Wednesday I take an after-school club out on bikes on the Strawberry Line. We clean and fix bikes – repairing the bikes is something I really like doing.

“I catch the train every Wednesday and Saturday to get to my job, which I love to do. I feel comfortable and independent about catching the train on my own.”

Sally Wilcock of the Strawberry Line Café, said: “Hayden has done really well. He came to us on a work placement and then interviewed to become a volunteer. He worked really hard when he was volunteering with us, developing his skills and showing that he was ready to work as part of an adult workplace team.

“Like a lot of our young people on placements, Hayden travels to us by train. We encourage as many people as we can to be able to learn travel skills safely in order to travel independently.”

Community Rail Week, organised by Community Rail Network and sponsored by Rail Delivery Group, celebrates the work of the community rail movement across Britain, made up of 75 community rail partnerships and 1,300 station groups. Nationally they now cover 34% of Britain’s railways and about half its stations. As well as an army of 8,000 active volunteers, they directly engage an estimated 120,000 people a year, increasing access to rail and sustainable travel, and bringing people together.

GWR business assurance director Joe Graham said: “We are extremely proud that Yatton Station has been chosen to mark the launch of national Community Rail Week. Supported by Severnside Community Rail Partnership, the volunteers are a brilliant example of what can be achieved for the benefit of the local community.

“Great Western Railway has 11 community rail partnerships on our network and Community Rail Week provides the perfect showcase for their incredible work. They have great local knowledge and I know that they all work incredibly hard, inspiring sustainable improvements to their community and the local economy.

“We have been pleased to support the Strawberry Line Cycle Project through our GWR Community Fund in recent years, and know all about the benefits it brings not just to the local area, but to visitors from further afield.”

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The Community Rail Week launch at Yatton Station. Yatton, Somerset. May 20 2024.