‘Engaging Young People with Community Rail’ was coordinated by Community Rail Network and funded by the Department for Transport (DfT), to explore ways to reduce loneliness risk among young people, the age group most likely to report feeling lonely.
Three pilot projects were run: ‘Movement’ in Gloucestershire & Bristol, run by Gloucestershire CRP and Severnside CRP; ‘Making Connections’ in Blackburn with Darwen, run by Community Rail Lancashire; and ‘C-O-N-N-E-C-T-E-D’ in Newcastle & County Durham, run by youth and family charity Catch22.
The project involved collaboration with Dr Miriam Ricci, formerly of the University of the West of England (UWE), Bristol, to ensure the work was evidence-led, engaging and empowering.
Each pilot introduced groups of young people, many of whom had social anxiety and mental health issues, to their local rail network via journey planning and rail confidence building, and trips to rural, coastal, heritage and cultural locations. Excursions were combined with creative and social activities such as writing or visual art, working with community partners, and discussions on the opportunities rail can open up and its advantages.
Impacts recorded among the young people, aged 15-24, included:
A final project report summarises data collected through interactive workshops, surveys, and case studies with young people and those working on the project. It shows how engaging young people with rail and public transport can be used to break down mobility barriers, opening up new economic and leisure opportunities via inclusive and sustainable travel, and how rail offers a safe place for social interaction and personal development.
The 400+ young people involved reported a number of benefits in terms of social connectedness, awareness of and ability to use nearby travel options. Participants in all pilots described their experience using words such as “amazing”, “fun” and “fantastic”, and many expressed the desire to repeat the experience.
One participant said: “It was great to get away from home life and to experience new things. It made me realise there’s more out there than we know.”
Another added: “I wanted to join this project because getting back outside post-Covid was extremely difficult. I wanted to push myself out of my comfort zone. I wanted to meet new friends and hopefully push my art skills and meet new people.”
Report author Dr Ricci, now a freelance evaluation consultant, said: “The project engaged with young people, many of whom were from particularly disadvantaged backgrounds, to reduce the risk of loneliness and isolation and to enhance their propensity and effective ability to use rail to travel sustainably to destinations and access life opportunities.
“Through the broad range of delivered initiatives – journey planning workshops, art-based projects, and rail experience days – the project demonstrated that transport, and rail in particular, can be used as a means of accessing destinations and social activities, as a safe place for meaningful social interaction and friendship development, and as a personal development resource, to improve and gain new personal, social, and creative skills.”
Jools Townsend, chief executive of Community Rail Network, said: “Within the community rail movement, we know how independent, confident access to public transport is a crucial enabler for social connections and life opportunities, yet it is often lacking. Our pilot project set out to address this, empowering hundreds of young people, building travel confidence, widening horizons, and ensuring the young people could shape their experiences and make their voices heard.
“We’re excited about building on these experiences with our members and railway and community partners, we hope engaging thousands more young people in the years ahead.”
The Tackling Loneliness with Transport Fund, funded through the Shared Outcomes Fund and led by the DfT, aims to develop the evidence base for how transport can help to alleviate loneliness.
For a broad overview of all the loneliness research evidence mentioned in the report, see: Ricci M. (2022) Loneliness: What it is, how it affects young people, how it can be tackled, and the role of transport. UWE Bristol. Available here.
Delivered by Severnside and Gloucestershire CRPs, the project involved rail trips and socialisation visits to coastal and rural locations in the South West and Gloucestershire. The aim was to improve young people’s confidence and ability to travel sustainably to connect with these destinations.
‘Committed to empowering and supporting young people through our access to nature programmes, we welcomed the opportunity to participate in this pilot. We are proud to have contributed to building evidence regarding the important role transport and connectivity plays in stimulating positive outcomes for communities.’ – Hannah MacDonnell, executive director, Gloucestershire Community Rail Partnership.
Delivered by Community Rail Lancashire, this pilot comprised of four creative youth-led projects, focusing on Blackburn Station. The aim was to support participants to increase their self-confidence and instil a sense of belonging to place and community.
“Loneliness can affect any of us, and being part of a community, having a sense of belonging and purpose, are incredibly important. Through this project we’ve worked with a bunch of wonderful, creative practitioners, a whole range of different community and youth groups, a stream of volunteers, and the railway to create opportunities for new and renewed connections to take place within Blackburn.” – Katie Douglas, accessibility and inclusion officer, Community Rail Lancashire.
Delivered by Catch 22 with the National Citizenship Service (NCS), this pilot engaged young people in youth-led social action projects addressing issues around social isolation and loneliness, using rail to connect to new experience, people, and places.
(not including numerous local community partners in each of the three pilot areas)