Two rooms at Hampshire’s Swaythling station, that at the start of 2020 had been unused for many years, are now helping to reduce waste and support those in need in the local community.
In January, Three Rivers Community Rail Partnership (CRP), a not-for-profit organisation setup to further connect locals with their railway, took the first two rooms of the South Western Railway project to offer disused spaces for a peppercorn rent. Its intention was to transform these spaces into a facility that could support the area with its own, and other, organised activities.
Although development work was slowed due to COVID, the CRP recently worked with a local contractor to replace joists, lay new floor tiles, add heaters and plug sockets, and uncover the building’s old fireplace.
The space is now thriving as a Free Shop – an innovative programme collecting food, which would otherwise be thrown away, to be redistributed to people who can make use of it. Donations are made by supermarkets, and encouraged from other sources. Groceries are supplied, without means testing, to anyone from the local area.
Open each Saturday from 10.30 to 12.00, the shop is staffed by local volunteers who ensure nothing goes to waste. Any food remaining after the Free Shop has closed is passed on to a local Sunday Lunch Club charity.
Other uses for the spaces are also being explored, including forming a meeting place for a local folk group and a Local Resident’s Group, in addition to hosting a debt advice service weekly surgery.
SWR’s community rail manager, Andy Harrowell, said: “The audit of redundant spaces has enabled local communities to put parts of the railway that had otherwise sat dormant to good and imaginative use. We are very grateful to the team at the CRP and all the local volunteers who are helping to run the free food service.”
“We have other redundant spaces available and are scheduling viewings of a number of these soon. The progress at Swaythling makes us very optimistic about what can be achieved at our other stations in the future.”
Mark Miller, line officer for Three Rivers and East Hants CRPs, added, “We’ve run Free Shop at Petersfield Station for a number of years and it’s great that we have had the opportunity to extend this to another location. We’re able to offer the food to anyone who can make use of it – there is no means testing or anything like that and that can make a real difference to many people. By having these rooms without the ongoing financial pressure of rent we can truly focus on helping people in the local area. Thank you SWR for your help and use of the rooms, as they are really meeting a wide range of local community needs.”