Kent Community Rail Partnership and Sheppey College wanted to work together to provide opportunities for students to get involved in a range of community projects. The main aim of ‘A Chance to Shine’ was to empower students to showcase their talents, boosting self-esteem, providing real-life experiences, and helping build portfolios to enhance employment prospects.
The community rail partnership were also keen to engage with the students to promote rail as safe, healthy, and sustainable travel, and to get their views on how the SwaleRail Line, which runs from Sittingbourne to Sheerness-on-Sea, could be improved for young people and all sections of local communities, encouraging increased passenger use.
To introduce them to the projects, 250 students – some of whom had never travelled by rail before or even left the Isle of Sheppey – were taken on the train to stations on the SwaleRail Line. Alongside information on how to travel confidently and independently, they were tasked with looking at issues at the stations and identifying potential improvements. To complement their own ideas, students asked passengers and local residents on what they wanted to see at the stations, with the results fed back to the community rail partnership and the train operator, Southeastern.
Different student groups produced work greatly enhancing the SwaleRail Line and the communities it serves.
- IT students built a SwaleRail website listing things to do and places to visit along the line. They also created a promotional video to support tourism, information posters detailing the history of the line and its stations, and ‘PopArt’ depicting a series of images along the route;
- Business students designed surveys and interviewed passengers, and created a range of posters for stations raising awareness on key issues including equality, addiction, mental health, and train etiquette;
- Construction, landscaping, and multi-trade students helped to improve station environments for passengers and communities by building and installing new benches, planters, and birdboxes, and creating floral displays.
Local councillors, the community rail partnership, and the college – which has now formally adopted all five stations on the line – praised the projects, noting that by taking ownership and responsibility, students developed teamwork, communication, and creative skills, showed increased levels of confidence and self-esteem, and developed a greater sense of appreciation for their communities and for rail travel.
Some students have gone on to complete work experience placements with Southeastern, and their achievements were also recognised by being named Kent Young Volunteers of the Year for 2019.