Music has the power to engage people, that is the simple concept behind ‘Lyric and Line’. Singer-songwriter Gareth Davies-Jones approached Tyne Valley Community Rail Partnership (TVCRP) with a proposal to use songs to facilitate various community views of rail travel. For some time, the partnership had been exploring different ways of identifying and understanding barriers to rail use, particularly among groups with additional needs. They wanted to find a way to engage people in more depth, seeing the railway through their eyes.

Concepts and aims

Gareth focused on three groups, who despite being familiar with the partnership’s work, did not habitually use the train. Over three months, he built relationships with Gibside SEND School in Gateshead, who regularly took part in TVCRP’s education programme, Journey Enterprises, a charity for adults with learning difficulties who run the coffee kiosk at Hexham Station, and Zig Zag, a group for adults experiencing isolation.

Gareth ran song writing sessions with the groups, bringing out their views on rail travel through music. Each one wrote and recorded an original song, identifying their challenges in using the train and the joys of rail travel.

Gibside School spoke of the railway as ‘an adventure’, while Journey focused on the practicalities of rail travel. Zig Zag, who had the most experience of rail travel as a group, identified some tough messages, highlighting that using ticket machines, a fear of buying the wrong ticket, and worries over toilets and the height of train steps were all areas which hindered their rail use. However, they were also clear that if you get it right, rail travel can be ‘the best way to understand the world.’

Results

Each group was able to record an initial version of their song just before the beginning of the first Covid-19 lockdown. TVCRP had planned to promote the work at various events, but instead, hosted an online Zoom session in which Gareth explained the project and played the songs, all to overwhelmingly positive and encouraging comments. The partnership now plans to package this session as a webinar on its redesigned website.

Gaining valuable insights into the views of the three groups has enabled TVCRP to set specific working objectives to reduce barriers to travel and build on the excitement that ‘Lyric and Line’ has created. The project had an immediate impact with Journey, who took a group on the line for the first time in March, despite having held station adoption bearer passes for a year.