Smethwick Rolfe Street is an inner-city station near Birmingham, opened in 1852, in one of the most diverse parts of the West Midlands, with a vibrant cultural mix. Sister station Galton Bridge, opened in 1995, is a mile away, fully accessible and with a footfall of 0.64 million (one third more than Rolfe Street). Rolfe Street station staff are passionate about their historic station and felt it was being left behind the newer Galton Bridge. They wanted to make it more welcoming to the diverse community and encourage its use by involving the community in improvements.
London Midland worked with the Smethwick Abrahamic Foundation, which brings Muslims together with all faiths to improve their community and run events. They spoke to local groups and introduced people interested in regenerating the station garden. Through their help local family Abdul, Sultana and Muhammed Shahid joined with Janet Cartwright, 75, the first female grower working for Smethwick Parks in the 1960’s and who helps with church gardens, to form the station’s first adoption group.
The garden needed much work to make it a manageable plot, which was achieved with the support of London Midland and Network Rail. Janet chose low maintenance, drought resistant shrubs and fragrant herbs that are good for bees. London Midland worked with the Birmingham Intensive Therapy Association, which provides volunteering and employment opportunities in gardening for people experiencing mental ill health. They provided the plants, grown by their volunteers, and lent the tools.
In May, the adopters joined with London Midland’s Safety and Environment team, colleagues from Network Rail and Transport for the West Midlands and Rolfe Street staff, to re-compost the garden, plant it up and cover the beds with bark. It was an enjoyable day and adopter Abdul made a video to capture everyone working together. The adopters were especially proud of their adoption plaque in the garden.
This has been complemented by improvements to the station building, including complete refurbishment of the station master’s office, making it into a station history and community exhibition space. Sandwell College were engaged, leading to a students’ work experience project planning an ambitious programme of works to re-plaster and paint the room and install an exhibition. Gaining permissions relating to Control of Hazardous Substances to Health was lengthy but hurdles were overcome by working closely with London Midland properties colleagues and Network Rail’s account manager. Work was completed by three teams of students studying construction. Supervised by tutors, they took just six days to complete the work. For the first exhibition, station colleague Peter Chapman worked with Sandwell Council archives to put together a history of the station, complemented with images of the station projects.
- Diverse groups engaged and working together and a lasting relationship formed with the community
- A more welcoming station
- The adopters are looking at their next project, a wildlife art project with schools, to complement the garden
- A refurbished room at the station, providing a ready-made community meeting and exhibition space
- The students have learned through being involved in a real-life project; they have had to think on their feet and solve problems, and working for a ‘client’ has prepared them for work
- The materials for the work experience and adoption project totalled £495, so the benefit/cost ratio from above must be exceptional.