Haltwhistle Station in Northumberland was very fortunate to escape the mass demolition and substitution with bus shelters that was the fate of many of the stations in the Tyne Valley. The Old Booking Hall, Signal Box, Water Tower, and Waiting Rooms still remain. The Old Booking Office has become the Education Centre for the Tyne Valley Community Rail Partnership (TVCRP).
In playing a role within the community the Old Booking Hall is available for use by local groups. Every Wednesday afternoon the Platform Painters, a group of seven octogenarians, meet to paint. “We are trying to get with it before we are past it!”. The Old Booking Hall is an ideal meeting place, nice and warm with a kitchen and toilets. The Platform Painters consist of Wendy, Susan, Lorna, Katrina, Heather and Tom, the eldest who is 94 years old, who have joined the TVCRP officially.
Last November, in time for the Armistice Day celebrations, all the 14 stations on the line had a display of hand knitted poppies. The Platform Painters joined in and provided a painting of a skylark for each station referencing the World War One poems about the skylarks heard in the trenches between bombardments. These paintings have been preserved to use again next year.
Thanks to ACoRP, who provided the tracking, the room can be used for exhibitions as the paintings can be mounted. The work of the Platform Painters was on display for a week last year and during the busy late night Christmas shopping event held in November.
In the glorious heat wave in February the Platform Painters went outside with their easels and sat in the entrance courtyard and painted the Water Tower. Once the weather gets a little warmer they plan to go outside more and paint the other aspects of the station.
The Platform Painters are also taking part in ACoRP’s Community Rail in the City event in May, at Glasgow Central Station. In order to boost the number of passengers using the line, along with posters and publicity material, there will be a model of the Roman Wall. The Platform Painters will be painting the stones of the Wall to make them look realistic. “Not easy, but fun”. It is hoped the Wall will catch the eye of the Glasgow commuters during the event and tempt them south to visit the real thing – by train, of course.
The Platform Painters also act as ambassadors for Northern, passengers often call in looking for a toilet or to buy a ticket. They are very busy if the train is ever cancelled. There are also a number of visitors as Haltwhistle is a good place to reach the Roman Wall. One lady from Australia recognised a painting of the Blue Mountains which hangs on the wall of the Booking Office.
It is interesting to know what uses former railway buildings have been put to. Art and the sound of the trains passing blend in well. “Painting is freedom” and this happy group who “always have a laugh together”, have put fresh life into the station building. If you are ever in Haltwhistle do pop down and visit the Platform Painters. Ask them when the next train to Carlisle is? …They know the timetable off by heart.