Community Opportunity

Station adoption and partnership groups showcase award-winning heritage, cultural and horticultural activity and wider community involvement. In HADRAG’s core area alone we have BrighouseSowerby Bridge and Mytholmroyd — three in a row! A “community rail partnership” for the whole line would support and complement their work, writes Richard Lysons, chair of the Friends of Littleborough Stations (FOLS) and HADRAG committee member.

Community rail lines fit local circumstances and increase involvement, helping to support growth. A Community Rail Partnership (CRP) supports a community rail line. The Penistone Line, Bentham Line and Mid Cheshire Line partnerships are notable examples.

Mid Cheshire CRP (Chester-Northwich-Manchester) joined forces Calder Valley Line volunteers in the highly successful Discover Amazing Women by Rail project. As a result our line now has a quality publication that focusses on people like the Bronte sisters, Anne Lister and Gracie Fields whilst promoting our local destinations, and encouraging rail tourism. A map shows the 29 stations along the line and its branches. Finance for the project came mostly from the Department for Transport’s Designated Community Rail Development Fund.

The Mid Cheshire CRP has been running for over 10 years and benefits from the work of energetic full time officer Sally Buttifant.

The Calder Valley Line is a long and varied route linking Yorkshire, Manchester and East Lancashire. It passes through beautiful scenery and towns of all sizes. Whilst the line is very successful and overcrowded at times, smaller unstaffed stations can be bleak, and at certain times trains are relatively empty. Fares can be a problem: cheap off-peak rover tickets are available in Greater Manchester and West Yorkshire, but fares soon become unappealing if one dares cross the border by train! Too many of the visitors to Eureka and the Piece Hall, right next to Halifax station, arrive by car, as do visitors to Hebden Bridge.

Along the line several highly successful station friends groups and station partnerships mobilise scores of volunteers who already work hard to improve their station environment and facilities. Some work with schools and youth groups and many are involved such activities as gardening, litter picking and Christmas activities. Some have effective sponsorship schemes with local businesses.

A typical community rail partnership covers a whole line and brings together local authorities, train operators, community groups and businesses, with common aims of promoting and enhancing stations and services, complementing and supporting the voluntary efforts of station groups. CRPs are as varied as the lines they serve. In recent months the Calder Valley Line’s rail services have come in for a lot of criticism. A community rail partnership would not solve problems that the railway itself must address, but research has shown that where such line CRPs exist revenue has risen and so has passenger satisfaction — helping to fill those emptier off-peak trains.

The Calder Valley’s “line identity” has already gained a huge boost from Amazing Women, a project initiated by the Friends of Littleborough Stations. Success was due to the creative partnership of this small friends’ group with the Association of Community Rail Partnerships (ACORP), Community Rail Lancashire, Women in Community Rail and Mid Cheshire CRP. Without professionals experienced in community rail and rail tourism, the women’s history project would not have happened.

The Calder Valley Line lends itself to green, niche and alternative tourism, following the Rochdale Canal and other waterways along its routes with rich opportunities for station-to-station walks, cycle trips — urban and rural exploration and potential access for all. There are historic cinemas in Elland, Hebden Bridge and Leeds; unusual music venues; even more links with amazing people (women and men!) and a large number of art galleries, museums and historic houses. [Some of us think every station should be an art gallery— Ed.] There are all sorts of possibilities for trails and days out exploring these themes.

Officers at Calderdale and Rochdale councils are discussing a possible CRP for the Calder Valley Line. Watch this space!

More Information

Rail Partnerships

Local Station Groups

 

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More Awards for Station Groups

In the Bronte Garden, one of numerous excellent information boards celebrates “Gardening at Sowerby Bridge Station”. Another board commemorates Branwell Bronte who worked at the first Sowerby Bridge station, and in front of it an traditional wooden seat has been sponsored by ACORP, the Association of Community Rail Partnerships.

Floral displays, local history displays, artwork from schools, edible plants free to harvest at Todmorden… all products of community involvement make railway stations on our line more welcoming and hence train travel more attractive.

Seven years in a row have FoSBRS, the Friends of Sowerby Bridge Railway Station, scooped awards from Yorkshire in Bloom under the Britain in Bloom banner supported by the Royal Horticultural Society. This year the achievements of friends or partnership groups at no less than three stations in our immediate area have been recognised with awards, with accolades also from ACORP.

This year ACORP’s Community Rail Awards were presented in Southport on 29 September. Sowerby Bridge’s “Station 175” event, held over a weekend in October last year,  received an acclaimed joint third place in the competition for best community engagement event. Station 175 set out to draw in local people, to inform and educate about the impact of the railway on the town. It spotlighted  developments at the station since 1840 including recent projects of FOSBRS. The “175” weekend brought together all age-groups, involved local businesses, received a grant from Calderdale Council and was supported by Northern Rail and Trans Pennine Express. A year on, FoSBRS look to be going from strength to strength.

The Community Rail Awards presentation was the Sowerby Bridge Friends’ second award-collecting outing in a month. FOSBRS had already been decorated by Yorkshire in Bloom with not only a Gold (2 marks short of Platinum) in the Yorkshire Rose Open Spaces 2016 category but also a discretionary tourism award. Plaques in the station subway bear witness to success in this competition every year since 2010.

The Friends of Brighouse Station — dare we call them FOBS? — haven’t been going quite as long as their colleagues at Sowerby Bridge, but scored fantastic early success last year with rewards for spectacular floral colour. This year they are among the winners again, and expressed delight at receiving no less than three awards. Building on success as a new group in 2015, FOBS entered the In Your Neighbourhood section at Yorkshire in Bloom this year, and received not only the highest award Outstanding, but also — and this was a delightful surprise at the awards ceremony in York — a judges’ discretionary award for a small community.

Not to be outdone by Sowerby Bridge, the Brighouse group also went in for the Community Rail (ACORP) awards, and at the Southport event were assessed at the highest level — Gold — for the It’s Your Station competition. Regeneration of  an overgrown “eyesore” patch to what will become an attractive part of the station garden was recognised with third place in the  Small Projects competition.

For indeed why should stations not be gardens?

The Brighouse station friends are chaired by David Bedding, who reminded us that the group only started less than two years ago and said the awards “reflect the tremendous work put in by the whole group,” turning “drab and unloved” Brighouse station into “the clean, vibrant and colourful place it is now.”

Mytholmroyd Station Partnership also saw success again this year with a Yorkshire in Bloom Level 5 Outstanding in the It’s Your Neighbourhood category. At the heart of a community still rebuilding after the Boxing Day flood, the group also received a discretionary community award for dealing with adversity. The Mytholmroyd group recently celebrated its tenth anniversary, and in what sounds to us like a first held, a “twinning” ceremony with the Friends of Bentham Station on the line between Skipton and Lancaster. The hope is that others will be encouraged to form adoption groups for local stations.

Mytholmroyd station is shortly to get a new car park, major investment funded through West Yorkshire Combined Authority from the West Yorkshire Plus Transport Fund. The adoption groups can never replace this kind of investment by the rail businesses and transport agencies, but what the “Friends” and “Partnerships” can do is provide little extras — artwork, culture, horticulture or whatever — that make a big difference.

 

Down at the Station…

Brighouse

We wandered along one midsummer morning to find the Friends of Brighouse Station hard at work putting final touches to floral displays before the arrival of judges from Yorkshire in Bloom (YiB). Throughout the summer, colourful displays on the station have transformed the environment for rail users. Praising the Friends’ voluntary efforts since their formation last October, YiB’s judges noted: “The station now looks more inviting to visitors and users. Sponsored planters and self-watering half baskets make the platforms colourful and inviting. The volunteers have made a great impact, making the station clean, [and] litter, graffiti and weed free. Improvements [are]now taking place in the car park making the area more inviting and safer for rail users.”

Sowerby Bridge

Just up the line, FoSBRS, the Friends of Sowerby Bridge Railway Station, have been going a bit longer, and – you guessed it – they scooped yet another award this summer. Awarding Gold in the Open Spaces category YiB commended a “well organised, enthusiastic group with specific aims utilising members’ specialist skills and interests, working with various groups and stakeholders to ‘breathe new life into the station’ for the benefit of rail travellers and visitors”. There was praise also for links with schools and scout groups, and for recruitment and social activities. An “impressive number of information boards depicting persons of note and interesting events” from local history now adorn the platforms. And FoSBRS looks after its environment, providing habitats for wildlife and harvesting rainwater. Coffee grounds and card from the Jubilee Refreshment Room are composted for use by the group’s eager team of gardeners.

Mytholmroyd

Mytholmroyd Station Partnership & Neighbourhood were judged “Outstanding” in YiB’s Neighbouhood category. This “dedicated group who are committed to improving the station and neighbouring green spaces for the local community and visitors to the town to enjoy” were commended for their partnership with the railway, local authority and local church, for planting on and around the station, and for encouragement of local schoolchildren to get involved with artwork and seed cultivation.

Community displays brighten the scene. “Ironman” boards celebrate a 1968 science fiction story by Ted Hughes the locally born Poet Laureate. As at Brighouse and Sowerby Bridge sponsorship by local businesses is acknowledged and highly valued – essential in fact. Mytholmroyd station partnership celebrates its tenth year in 2016.

With continuing community involvement Mytholmroyd should become an even more attractive place to get on the train, and is due to get a new station car-park. What some users have been calling for is simply more trains – or maybe not so simply! The weekday service is twice-an-hour to Manchester and to Leeds. By national standards, that’s not a bad service frequency for a village halt, but there’s a greater catchment area if park & ride expands. We know people want more frequent trains to Bradford and it would be nice if currently rare stops by the York-Blackpool service could be increased.

Overall

HADRAG has repeatedly argued, notably in the Northern franchise consultation and to the shortlisted bidders, that more is needed for stations by-passed by the faster services. We have long said that all the York-Blackpools should serve Sowerby Bridge – seemingly half-promised in the past but a lot less than half delivered. By the end of the decade the franchise will deliver an extra semi-fast service every hour on the Bradford route; surely, we say, this should call at Sowerby Bridge. The station now has a big car park that is almost full most mornings.

A lot more is needed to realise Brighouse’s rail potential, drawing on a key position within the M62 corridor. Here is another station where the car-park fills early. With talk of tourism development let’s make rail first travel choice for more people! For starters we’ve called for the Manchester-Brighouse-Leeds service to run later in the evenings and on Sundays. There must be a case for a service, maybe from Preston, linking upper Calderdale with Huddersfield, giving an additional hourly train for all stations along the valley bottom – not forgetting Elland. Brighouse is also on a potential direct route via Wakefield to York, avoiding the Leeds bottleneck. And finally, if the capacity can be created for a fast service, Brighouse could in the future be within 20 minutes of Leeds itself by train – something this newsletter will never let you forget!

Volunteer action by the friends and partnership groups makes our stations more attractive and creates a sense of community ownership. But we need the rail businesses and transport authorities to give us more trains, market them, and get even more of us using them.