Members of a grassroots movement – including along the 75-mile scenic and historic route from Leeds to Morecambe, known as the Bentham Line – have continued to strive for Northern England’s communities and work towards a greener transport future, despite the pandemic.
Figures from Community Rail Network’s Community Rail in the North briefing, sponsored by Rail Delivery Group, (being launched today, 24 March,) highlight that over 3,000 volunteers give over 140,000 hours annually, valued at £11.7 million, to improve social inclusion and wellbeing, promote sustainable and healthy travel, and support economic development, in their local area.
Working with the North’s 20 community rail partnerships and 350 station groups, including those at Morecambe, Bare Lane, Bentham, Clapham, Keighley, Bingley and Shipley, they engage local people with their railways and stations, working with train operators, local authorities, and other partners. Activities include: volunteering, community gardening and biodiversity projects at stations; community arts and heritage projects; work with rail industry partners towards improvements and integration, such as shelters, signage, pedestrian and cyclist access; and events, workshops and activities to promote sustainable travel, bring people together, and celebrate the local community.
Community Rail is now looking forward to playing a pivotal role in ‘building back better’ from Covid-19, and helping our railways to be a vital component of a greener, more inclusive way forward as part of a national ‘green recovery’.
In the towns and villages served by the Bentham Line and beyond, the Leeds-Morecambe Community Rai Partnership’s activities to promote the communities served by the railway have involved work with primary schools in Carnforth, Clapham and Cononley, children’s charities in Skipton and art-for-wellbeing groups at Bentham
The LMCRP has worked extensively with local councils and tourism bodies, such as the Forest of Bowland AONB, to create a range of leisure activities, including the award-winning Rail to Trail programme of walking and cycling routes, and promoting days out to destinations on and beyond the line. One of the LMCRP’s most significant achievements is to have established the Bentham Line as the first dementia-friendly railway in Britain and to have led the way in raising awareness across the rail industry.
Commenting on the importance of the community rail movement in the North of England, Jools Townsend, chief executive of Community Rail Network said: “Community Rail works to make our railways community-minded and inclusive, and promotes sustainable travel by rail, bringing people together and bolstering local pride and wellbeing. In the North, community rail partnerships, like the LMCRP, and groups have adapted and responded, supporting communities through the pandemic, maintaining positivity, and advising rail partners on shifting local needs.
“As we start to rebuild from Covid-19, within the community rail movement, and across our railways, we will be redoubling efforts, to create confidence and togetherness, and play our part in enabling more people to get around by socially and environmentally responsible means. Community Rail is all about communities and connectedness, and people working together locally to make things better for each other and our shared future; that couldn’t be more important right now.”
Gerald Townson, Chairman of the LMCRP said: “The important word in our title is ‘community’; it is at the heart of everything we undertake along the Bentham Line.”
“During the pandemic, we have been busy working remotely with Northern Train’s Year in Industry students, on a sustainability and green issues information project, creating informative history panels for our stations, and developing projects to reflect on our development, look to the future and help celebrate our 15th anniversary year from April 2021 to March 2022. This year will also see the 10th anniversary of the formation of the Friends of Bentham Station in September 2021. Through their voluntary work, they too have contributed enormously to the world of Community Rail.”
“The important word in our title is ‘community’; it is at the heart of everything we undertake along the Bentham Line.”
Gerald Townson, Chairman of the LMCRP
Rod Tickner, Vice-Chairman, long-serving director of the LMCRP and a founding member of Dementia Friendly Keighley added; “We are incredibly proud to have had our work to make the Bentham Line the first dementia-friendly railway in Britain, recognised by a national award in October 2019. Being able to provide great days out for those living with dementia and their carers is an honour and something we plan to resume, as soon as it is safe to do. We already have organisations in Skipton and Keighley looking forward to creating special trips to the seaside at Morecambe and the picturesque Forest of Bowland AONB and we would be pleased to help other groups requiring additional support, along our scenic route.”
One from the western part of the line and one from the eastern:
Carnforth June 2019
The partnership is looking forward to welcoming pupils back to the Bentham Line soon. Before the pandemic the pupils from North Road Primary School in Carnforth enjoyed a day of rail safety, history and art activities at Carnforth Station Heritage Centre, with the partnership and Northern’s Year in Industry students.
The partnership is looking forward to welcoming pupils back to the Bentham Line soon. Before the pandemic the pupils from Cononley Primary School received the rail safety artwork they created with the partnership and Northern’s Year in Industry students and unveiled copies of their designs on the platforms.’
Photographs courtesy of Gerald Townson.