The seeds for our winning entry were first sown back in 2017, when colleagues within community rail began discussing the concept of linking community rail partnerships through education work. Community Rail Lancashire, with support and funding from Northern, developed the idea, and the Community Education Network was born.

Its objectives were to share best practice and successes in educational engagement amongst community rail groups, to offer a tool for communication and support, and to provide training and impetus to trial new ideas and innovative ways of linking education and community rail. The ethos behind the network was to provide opportunities for partnerships and groups to support each other.

Since its inception, the group has devised and promoted a host of educational resources and projects, many of which can be found on the ‘Down the Line’ website. The network was also instrumental in the creation of Community Rail Network’s youth engagement strategy, which in turn led to our recent youth engagement report.

The network was initially open to community rail partnerships and groups across the Northern network, but when Covid-19 hit, the group moved its meetings online and invited members from across Britain to join. One thing that many people missed about usual community rail life was the interactions with others, and the network’s virtual gatherings offered a hugely appreciated opportunity to see friendly faces, chat, and share ideas and thoughts.

The sessions not only allowed people to share ideas and good practice, they also provided a continued sense of community, providing many, often lone workers, with support, comfort, and motivation during a difficult time. As engagement work had to be done virtually, the network explored new ideas and ways of working to enable continued engagement with schools and colleges. The group has been commended for their adaptable and innovative approach, and successful projects such as Backtrack, a national competition devised by the network to tackle rail trespass among young people.

The work of the network is growing ever more important, as members consider how education and its links to community rail will evolve over the months and years to come. The meetings continue to provide crucial peer support, and members have reaffirmed just how much it is appreciated by all involved.