Concept and aims
During the spring of 2019 a number of community engagement projects called ‘CreativiTea Trains’ took place on branch lines across Cornwall, coordinated by the Devon and Cornwall Rail Partnership. The concept gives communities the chance to come together in a creative way via a tea party on the train, complete with cupcakes, bunting, arts and crafts and more.
On the Looe Valley Line, the CreativiTea Trains were linked to a wider heritage project and were used to tease out memories of local history and culture and educate young people about the history of the railway. On the Atlantic Coast Line, which runs from Par to Newquay, the concept was linked to social inclusion by working with the Eden Project.
As part of the Looe Valley Line Heritage Project, CreativiTea Trains had been used to gather memories of the line from local people, but the partnership also wanted to develop a way of engaging young people. Two local schools along the line were keen to be involved, and children enjoyed workshops learning about the history of the line using old photographs the heritage project had unearthed.
The pupils were then tasked with coming up with good questions they could ask to find out more about older people’s memories of the line, such as what type of trains they remembered travelling on. They also designed toppers for cakes printed onto edible sugar paper ready to be served at the tea party. Services were run with Duloe Primary School in the morning and Looe Primary School in the afternoon, with 120 people taking part across the day.
On the Atlantic Coast Line, the innovative nature of CreativiTea Trains captured the interest of the Eden Project, resulting in the scheme being included in Eden’s annual Big Lunch programme, aimed at getting people together to share food, interact, and tackle social exclusion and isolation.
The partnership again engaged a local primary school, where children created a song called ‘What’s your cup of tea?’, which was all about finding out about people likes and dislikes and getting to know one another. A local Age UK group also got involved as many of their users had not been on a train trip for many years. The children and adults spent the train journey eating and chatting, with the pupils also performing the song they had written in class.
On The Looe Valley Line, the events re-engaged many local people with their railway, with many of the older generation commenting on how long it had been since they had been on the train, but what fond memories they had of it from their youth. The trips also brought to light brand-new information for the heritage project, such as the fact that in the past flowers had been picked in Looe and sent to London by train for sale in Covent Garden, something which had always been suspected but never proven.
This type of information was included in the heritage project’s mobile phone app for the line, on new interpretation boards at stations, and on the project website. An accompanying project film was also shown in front of a 100-strong audience at a premiere evening at Liskeard Public Hall.
On the Atlantic Coast Line, the atmosphere on the train was described as “incredible”, with a partnership spokesman adding: “The elderly people particularly commented on how much fun they had had, and how surprised they were at how much they had to talk about with the children.”
The project featured heavily in local media, with items shown on BBC TV and radio throughout the day, and the event was also filmed by Great Western Railway and subsequently shown as a case study at their annual Community Rail Conference.