Away from the beauty of the Lake District National Park, West Cumbria has 29 communities ranked in the top ten per cent of the most socially and economically deprived areas in England. All lie along the route of the Cumbrian Coast Line, in neglected coastal communities such as Barrow-in-Furness, Workington, and Maryport.
Numerous studies have concluded that deprivation can have deep and lasting effects on young people. Community Rail Cumbria were aware of this and wanted to explore how community rail could play a role in helping to bring about real and positive change for children and families.
The partnership worked with Flimby Primary School, which serves a community featuring on many deprivation indices. The first step saw the school adopt their village station, and the children showed their appetite for change by creating artwork and a project entitled ‘Stop Smashing Our Windows’, aimed at reducing vandalism and promoting social inclusion and community responsibility.
Pupils were given the opportunity to experience train travel, some for the first time, and the journeys introduced new dimensions to the curriculum, allowing their inquisitive minds to benefit from practical ways of learning about issues like healthy lifestyles and the environment. They took the train to learn about and join their local library, and also discovered the Roman history of Maryport via storyboards on the station platform.
Every child from the school, together with staff, community volunteers, and parents, visited Millom Discovery Centre and its museum. They learnt how rail had impacted on the area’s industrial and social past, as well as enjoying the centre’s model railway and other attractions. Community Rail Cumbria has formed a strategic alliance with the centre, which has opened up new funding streams for future projects from organisations such as the Heritage Lottery and the Arts Council.
The project has been hugely appreciated by those living in Flimby, with the revitalised station placed at centre of the community with young people leading the way. One resident told the partnership that the station was now “at the heart of positive change, not negative behaviour”, while another parent said, “the pupils are inspiring their brothers and sisters to respect each other and take pride in their village.”
Community Rail Cumbria has used the project to develop a more substantive strategy for supporting other deprived communities, and has used the influence and persuasion of community rail to engage other organisations, including working with Cumbria County Council on introducing family learning sessions, and Barnardo’s on counselling to help deal with anxiety among school children.