Five new community rail schemes will be funded on the Southeastern network as part of its recent Direct Award contract announced by the Department for Transport in March.
A significantly expanded £400,000 funding pot for community rail has been made available over two years, to help roll out community rail activity to more areas across Kent and East Sussex.
As part of the increase in community rail activity, two new partnerships are to be established on the Southeastern network, including a new ‘White Cliffs Community Rail Partnership’ and a new ‘Thanet Community Rail Partnership’.
In addition to the two prospective community rail partnerships (CRPs) which have received funding, three existing community rail partnerships – the Kent Community Rail Partnership, led by Sustrans, the Darent Valley Community Rail Partnership, and the Sussex Community Rail Partnership – have also been awarded funding to expand their activity to current and new community rail lines.
The Darent Valley Community Rail Partnership is the newest of these, representing six stations between Swanley and Sevenoaks, and launched in September 2019.
Chris Vinson, Senior External Communications Manager at Southeastern, said: “Community Rail Partnerships enrich the communities along the railway lines they adopt, helping to support tourism in the areas they serve, sprucing up stations with gardens and helping vulnerable groups volunteer and make a contribution to the local community. We’re delighted that this funding will now ensure that the benefits of community rail go even further across our network.”
Cllr Nigel Collor, Dover District Council’s cabinet member for transport, said: “The new White Cliffs Community Rail Partnership brings together communities from Westenhanger through to Sandwich on one of the UK’s most iconic coastal rail lines. We know that people are passionate about their local railway, and this new Partnership gives communities a greater opportunity to get involved in initiatives to get the most from their local stations and services.
“Rail services have a key role to play as we set about growing our tourism and visitor economy, and facing the challenges of climate change across the Dover and Folkestone & Hythe districts. The White Cliffs Community Rail Partnership will help to ensure that the railway plays a key role in building community cohesion, improving health and wellbeing, and boosting sustainable regeneration.”
Moya Stirrup, head of communications at Turner Contemporary, said: “At Turner Contemporary, we believe in the power of art and creativity to inspire change, with evidence showing that creativity can support wellbeing as well as delivering significant economic and social benefit. We want to enable everyone to realise their creative potential; this partnership will offer more opportunities for individuals to do that.
“To date, the arts and creativity have played a central role in making Thanet a vibrant and exciting place to live, as well as an inspiring destination for tourists. We are thrilled to be working in partnership with Thanet District Council and its tourism team, Visit Thanet, to support our community in response to the far reaching impact of Covid-19.”
Chris Fribbins, chairman of the Kent Community Rail Partnership, said: “The KCRP is pleased that Southeastern has agreed to increase the funding for our existing work in Kent over the last 15 years as part of their increased support for community rail in their area and have awarded extra funds to extend the community rail benefits to the Kemsing to Ashford via Maidstone East line, working with the local communities”.
Linda Larter MBE, chairman of the Darent Valley Community Rail Partnership, said: “The funds from Southeastern are very much appreciated and will enable our agreed action plan to start to move forward, including the appointment of our new Community Rail Officer, a website and bespoke promotional material. Although this has been impacted by Covid-19, we’re raring to go.”
Tim Barkley, chair of the Sussex Community Rail Partnership, said: “We’re delighted to have been awarded the Hastings line to our portfolio. We already have a group on the Marshlink line, between Hastings and Ashford, and look forward to working with Southeastern and communities along the route to connect them to their local railway line.
“It has been difficult during the past few months, but we are keen to promote public transport again, which in the long run we know is better for all of us.”
Jools Townsend, chief executive, Community Rail Network, said: “Community rail is all about helping communities to get the most from their local railways and stations, advising railway partners on putting local needs at the forefront, and bringing people together. “This work is so important right now – to help communities recover and ‘build back better’ from Covid-19, and to ensure everyone can get around sustainably. We’re excited to see this investment in community rail from Southeastern, and looking forward to working with them and communities across their network.”
Funding was awarded to current and prospective community rail partnerships after Southeastern ran a bidding process open to all organisations which wanted to run community projects at their local stations.
Bidders had the option of committing to securing an official designation of community rail partnership under the Community Rail Network, or had already secured this and wanted to expand their activity.
Proposed schemes were asked to promote sustainable travel, bring together local communities and promote social wellbeing and economic development.