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600 community rail volunteers poised to play a key role in South West’s recovery

Members of a growing grassroots rail movement have continued to strive for communities across the South West 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 in the South West report, sponsored by Rail Delivery Group and released today (31 March), highlight that more than 600 volunteers give over 27,000 hours annually to support social inclusion and wellbeing, sustainable and healthy travel, economic development and tourism in their area, valued at £2.3 million.

Seven community rail partnerships and 70 station groups across the South West region engage local people with their railways and stations, working with train operators, local authorities and other partners. Their activities include: volunteering, community gardening, food growing and biodiversity projects at stations; community arts and heritage projects to help people learn about and take pride in their area; work with rail industry partners towards improvements and integration, such as shelters, signage or pedestrian and cyclist access; and events, workshops and activities to promote sustainable travel, bring people together, and celebrate local communities.

Community rail across the South West is now looking forward to playing a pivotal role in building back better from Covid, and helping our railways to be a vital component of a greener, more inclusive way forward as part of a ‘green recovery’.

Community rail across the South West

Severnside Community Rail Partnership works with partners to promote rail as an inclusive form of travel, introducing groups to local railways and creating cohesive neighbourhoods. Before the pandemic, this included regular events focusing on inclusion and mental health, working with organisations such as LinkAge and the Alzheimer’s Society. They also support Incredible Edible Bristol with its ‘Secret Garden’, at a disused, now transformed, platform at Avonmouth Station, empowering people to grow their own food, reducing dependency and benefitting health.

Devon and Cornwall Rail Partnership has been promoting small local businesses through the pandemic, developing directories of book and record shops, and promoting pasty shops and station cafes, accessible by train and bus. They used social media campaigns to encourage people to support these shops online during lockdowns, and visit in person when circumstances allow. The partnership is continuing to encourage people to plan sustainable tourism by rail when restrictions are eased, showcasing local histories, stories, sights and attractions, and highlighting the great scenic views to be seen from the train window.

The Friends of Wool Station have continued to progress their activities making their station a welcoming hub and gateway for the community, and integrating rail travel with other sustainable modes. They have created easy-to-follow guides and maps showing local bus and rail routes, and recently improved signage for cyclists.

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. Across the South West, 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 South West 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.”

Emma Morris, community manager at GWR, added: “Community rail plays a vital role ensuring people get the most from their railways. Working alongside local, regional, and national partners; Community Rail Partnerships; station adoption groups; and individual volunteers, community rail encourages social inclusion, community wellbeing and empowers economic development.”