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Reflections of a Community Rail Network board member

Community Rail Network will be holding its next Annual General Meeting (AGM) on Tuesday 1 November 2022 (14:00-15:30) via Zoom.

We are now inviting applications for new board members to play a role in shaping the future direction of the organisation and community rail more broadly. You can click here for details of the board elections information pack and to view the nomination form.

We thought it would be useful for those who are interested to hear directly from some of our current board members, to get an insight into what the role entails.

Karen Bennett

I am totally invested in Community Rail.  As Education Network Chair, I’ve gained lots of connections to other officers and know about projects occurring up and down the country.  My social media feeds keep me informed of all the latest goings on in rail and more specifically community rail.  I like to see photographs of stations tended to by adoption groups, find out which CRPs have been working on new projects and also get to know newly appointed officers for different lines.

When I saw an opportunity to join the CRN board, I knew I had to apply. I wanted the opportunity to shape the future of the movement especially at a time of great change in the railway industry.  Being a member of the board means you get to make strategic decisions on the running of the Community Rail Network.  From agreeing budgets, approving plans for the awards and making suggestions for pay increases for team members.  

There are skills to be gained also.  My special skills are not in finance, but to understand the budget, training is being provided to ensure directors know what they are approving and suggesting.  Whichever way my career progresses, having experience on the board will no doubt support future roles – especially as I look towards leadership positions. 

The board continues to look to diversify. I am proud to be a female director from the LGBTQ+ community, but it would be great to have more members apply who represent minority groups.  It’s another team to be part of – with our regular online and in-person meetings and annual away days.

Julia Singleton-Tasker

Before I started my role as a CRP Officer, I had no experience with community rail.  It wasn’t something I had come across before, but the job seemed interesting and it worked for family life.  It wasn’t long before I discovered a passion for what I do and real joy in working within the community rail family.  This led me to put myself forward for election to the CRN board, as I wanted to understand community rail from a different perspective and to also contribute what I could on a wider scale.   

The board has been incredibly welcoming and values the different backgrounds and experiences of the directors.   

It has given me: 

  • A better understanding of community rail on a national scale. 
  • More appreciation of the hard work that the CRN team do to provide support for it’s members.  
  • Increased opportunity to talk to other people involved in community rail – it can be lonely as a sole CRP Officer, but this is a great way to become more involved and make new connections. 

Roy Chapman

Many of us have enjoyed the wonderful 1970 film, ‘The Railway Children’. The late Bernard Cribbens’ excellent portrayal of the role of railway porter Albert Perks and the iconic scenes of the preserved Keighley & Worth Valley Railway epitomised many people’s views of a community railway.

However, the railway is very different in 2022. Not least we live in a more diverse world, in which the demands of work, commuting, the environment, sustainability and family life are more complex. The railway can and MUST be part of resolving the pressures in all these areas.

Community Rail is a vital part of that future. In the very challenging business environment of the railway industry in the post-Covid 19 pandemic era, it is vital to see greater engagement of local communities in the rail network.

By 1990, railway rationalisation had seen most local stations lose facilities and staff, leaving them functional in a brutalist, unwelcoming, unattractive and even threatening way. They often attracted vandalism, anti-social behaviour and crime. The few remaining staff (if provided) often did the best they could with limited time and resources. Stations were a poor ‘shop window’ for the railway network.

Community rail has brought welcome change. Thanks to more than 1,200 volunteer community rail groups, such as station friends of adoption, or social enterprises and the 76 Community Rail Partnerships, community engagement has brought railway stations back within the communities they serve. Many stations are now more attractive and welcoming. In turn this boosts rail patronage, underpins regeneration and tourism, reduces car use, improves people’s health and the local environment.

As a railway industry manager for some 40 years, I felt that stations should be a greater part of the communities they serve. I went on to develop and coordinate a range of rail station investment schemes and successful community rail relations. These including establishing the first Station Friends Groups across Greater Manchester. Also, my involvement in Rotary as an Independent Adviser to the British Transport Police, in youth training and more, enabled me to work with many diverse groups.

Society is also now more diverse. Community rail needs to continuously recruit volunteers and support. We must engage more widely in the diverse communities we serve to attract volunteers, develop cooperation, even partnerships and capture more mutual benefits. Innovation will also be boosted. Community rail needs to grow by learning from and building on the past, but also by developing, adapting and changing. There are many examples of this innovation, of change and of very diverse success across community rail.

It is vital that the CRN Board also evolves to reflect the challenges ahead, but also to better capture opportunities. That is why I joined the CRN Board, to help take community rail forward in an increasingly diverse and challenging business and social environment.

If you are interested in becoming a board member or would like to find out more, please feel free to contact our Chair Richard Burningham for an informal chat.