Community Rail can touch many lives in its quest to increase passenger numbers, rail usage and economic development. Inclusion, well-being, social cohesion and social responsibility are on the growing list of achievements that Community Rail can boast.
One such project which encapsulates the vision of Community Rail Partnerships and social inclusion is currently being undertaken on the Cumbrian Coast Line.
Laurence Hilland the Community Rail Partnership Officer for the Cumbrian Coast Line and Claire Bradshaw of Community Rail Cumbria invited me to see a pilot scheme which is jointly run by the Cumbrian Community Rail Partnership with funding via ComReg, Northern, Direct Rail Services, and Turning Point, a national charity engaged in the rehabilitation of people recovering from substance and alcohol abuse. The charity provides residential support at its centre in Workington and delivers a minimum of three months’ residential programme depending on each individual support requirements. Residents come from across the UK to be taken away from a home environment were circumstances can often be a trigger of abuse.
This exciting and innovative project began in October 2016 after discussions between its partner organisations to evaluate, propose support structures and organise a meaningful programme of work took up to 12 months to plan. Laurence and Dawn McGough the Community Rail Manager first looked at the good work CRP’s do and being aware that Cumbria has pockets of social and economic areas of deprivation, responsibility for marginalised sectors of the community the use of community rail and railway stations as a conduit for positive social inclusion and awareness of local rail to its communities.
To get a personal take on this exciting project, I was taken to Flimby Railway Station on the Cumbrian coast by Laurence and Claire. I was taken aback by its location near the shoreline and how the sea and clouds danced with each other in the distance. When I arrived on the platform I was warmly greeted by Warren Birch, the Manager of Turning Point’s residential centre, Stansfield House and one of the organisers of the project. He explained to me that the residents must sign up if interested for structured activities and projects involving community regeneration. Working in small groups of between five and six residents including supervisory staff the project has taken on the responsibility of rail- related activities of Green Road and Flimby stations. In addition to performing routine tasks such as the painting and maintenance of the stations the residents are also involved in developing community -based improvement schemes at the new transport hubs at Whitehaven and Workington. Teams get to survey stations to what needs to be done and so promotes a collective responsibility which helps empowerment and confidence.
The work carried out by the residents is very plain to see, the continual transformation of the stations is very exciting. What is also very important is the effect of this project is having on the residents taking part. All the residents involved have come from different backgrounds and skills sets which make the project more remarkable. The project reinforces the need for residents to gain confidence and self-esteem which was lost as they dealt with substance addiction and abuse.
I met with the team of residents who had arrived at Flimby and noticed that they wanted to get to work immediately. The team were preparing to paint the fences connected to the platform. Advice on repairs, prep and filing and painting were carried out with a thorough health & safety / action plan and protective outfits were worn by everyone. Speaking with some of the residents to ask how they felt about being on the project, I was told by the group that at first anxiety levels were high as they were working on busy stations and the stigma of substance abuse was causing a great deal of low confidence and self-esteem. These feeling soon made way to the mindset that they were working as a team and that was a positive contribution to motivation, higher confidence and the path to gaining self-respect. These are extremely big steps to achieving recovery. The feeling that they were now working and getting active created empowerment and with the bonus of being by the coast even a walk along the beach during a well-deserved break promoted mindfulness of the “here and now”.
Friendships have been made during this rail related project and as one resident explained to me, “we come from broken backgrounds and being on the project has given back self-respect taking time to help others and an awareness that one doesn’t need substances to get high, this project is creating a natural feeling of positive accomplishment and looking forward to what the future holds”.
Another resident told me about the time they were working at Harrington Station and as they were carrying out work on the project residents came out of their homes bringing an abundance of tea and biscuits for the group, “they didn’t know who we were and no one has ever cared about me before, that was special”.
One volunteer who was a resident at Turning Point enjoyed being on the project so much that when he left Stansfield House after recovery he was determined to carry on with the project. Travelling a distance to get to the project locations was worth it… “I am really pleased to be putting something back into the community”.
Turning Point have even become station adopters for Green Road station which shows the commitment by the charity and its residents to put something back into the community. As Laurence told me, “it’s small steps to a giant goal”.
I felt very privileged to see for myself the work being done by a dedicated group of people who all work in partnership and are striving for the same objective. Community Rail Partnerships have the potential to be the heart and soul of a community, breaking down barriers and promoting social inclusion.
To find out more about the vital work that Turning Point do, visiting their website here
Ian Davis | Operations Officer