Lancashire Loominary December issue


An occasional update from Lancashire Loominary 

No. 7        December 2021

Welcome to the December edition of Lancashire Loominary, an occasional update for readers and friends of Lancashire Loominary publications. It’s probably not too early to wish you a very happy Christmas. If you have bought any of my books over the last year, a particular thanks. It hasn’t been an easy time to be a small publisher (but when is?). Next year I’m hoping to bring out a new book on the history, present state and possible future of ‘Greater Lancashire’ as well as a collection of my local history features from The Bolton News, if they don’t mind, to be called Our Bolton.

This edition features an extended version of my article on Victor Grayson – the socialist MP who disappeared, almost without trace, after the First World War. His links to Bolton are highlighted, with scope for a bit more digging. There is a print version (a bit shorter but with pictures) in the current Big Issue North – which also carries a good piece by Chris Moss on Northern regionalism and the Hannah Mitchell Foundation (which is holding a conference on ‘Real Levelling Up’ on Saturday December 4th ( for details). Please buy BIN if you get the opportunity.

There’s what I hope is an attractive ‘readers’ offer’ for my books – see below. I also have a bit to say about HS2 and its partial cancellation. As usual, I don’t go with the tide!

Readers’ offers for Christmas

I currently have four books in stock – the full cover price is shown in brackets and details of the very generous (!) reductions for Loominary readers are given at the end of this newsletter:

  • Allen Clarke (‘Teddy Ashton’) Lancashire’s Romantic Radical ( £18.99)
  • Moorlands, Memories and Reflections (£21)
  • The Works (a novel set in Horwich Loco Works £12.99
  • With Walt Whitman in Bolton: spirituality, sex and socialism in a Northern Milltown (£8.99)

Some of these, as you’ll see from my website, are already available direct from me at a discounted price. Up to the end of the year I’m doing some further special offers which include:

  • Buy one get one free (the lowest priced one)
  • ‘two for price of one’ for same title
  • Bundle of all four titles for £30 (plus postage if not local)

Feature article:  the mysterious Victor Grayson

A young socialist firebrand called Victor Grayson shot to international fame in 1907 by winning a by-election in the Yorkshire textile constituency of Colne Valley, on an uncompromising left wing programme. He was defeated in 1910 and ten years later vanished, almost without trace. The story of his meteoric rise, and subsequent disappearance, is a fascinating chapter in British political history, very ably explored by the work of historians David Clark and more recently Harry Taylor whose biography Victor Grayson: in search of Britain’s lost revolutionary, was published recently. Bolton features prominently in the story of his life and subsequent disappearance.

Early years

Grayson was born in the Scotland Road district of Liverpool, of working class parents, in 1881 – though even this fact has been questioned, as we shall see. He had an adventurous boyhood, leaving home at the age of 14 to see the world, as a stowaway on board a ship bound for Chile – though he only got as far as Tenby, after being discovered.

Not much is known of his teenage years. He was an intelligent and resourceful lad with a strong social conscience and was apprenticed in an engineering works. He experienced poverty at first hand in the Liverpool slums and wanted to do something about it. In 1904 he enrolled as a student at the Unitarian college in Manchester to train as a minister; however he became increasingly involved in the socialist movement which was sweeping the North of England, inspired by the Clarion newspaper, edited by Robert Blatchford who was to become a close friend.

A popular socialist orator

By the following year, Grayson had become a popular figure on the socialist lecturing circuit across the North of England. He was a regular speaker at meetings of the Independent Labour Party and the Labour Church, both of which had a strong presence in the industrial North. Many meetings were held in the open air and attracted large crowds, such as in Farnworth on Sunday July 28th 1905. He spoke in Bolton’s Temperance Hall on several occasions during 1905, to huge audiences.

Revolution in the Colne Valley

In the Spring of 1907 the sitting Liberal MP for Colne Valley, near Huddersfield, resigned his seat following his elevation to the House of Lords. A by-election was set for July 18th, with the Liberals expecting an easy win. How wrong they were. The socialists got to work with enthusiasm and Grayson – a young man of 26 – was invited to apply to be the ‘Labour and Socialist’ candidate, narrowly beating a local man.

He had huge charisma – a handsome and flamboyant figure who could captivate his audience. Even in small mill villages like Golcar, Honley and Delph Grayson was able to attract audiences in the hundreds and sometimes even more. Grayson’s eve of poll message ‘to the electors of the Colne Valley’ pulled no punches:

“I am appealing to you as one of your own class. I want emancipation from the wage-slavery of Capitalism. I do not believe that we are divinely destined to be drudges. Through the centuries we have been the serfs of an arrogant aristocracy….the time for our emancipation has come. We must break the rule of the rich and take our destinies into our hands..the other classes have had their day. It is our turn now!”

Many of the looms in the weaving sheds of the valley had red ribbons tied to them, showing the weavers – mostly women – where they stood. Local children wore red rosettes and sang socialist songs when Grayson spoke.

The election result was announced on July 19th and it astonished the country. Grayson received 3,648 votes beating the Liberal with a majority of 153. The Conservative came a close third. When the vote was announced at Slaithwaite Town Hall, in the words of a local journalist, “pandemonium prevailed…the wild scene of enthusiasm which followed the announcement of the figures is indescribable.”

The result shook the political establishment to its foundations, with many fearing – or hoping – that a socialist revolution was imminent. Yet it wasn’t to be and Grayson’s parliamentary performance was erratic. He preferred touring the country speaking at socialist meetings than the dreary work of being a back-bench MP, though on one notable occasion he was expelled from the House of Commons for disrupting proceedings in support of the unemployed – an action that won him warm support amongst grassroots socialists but further alienated him from mainstream Labour MPs who were besotted with parliamentary procedure. He continued to visit Bolton and in February 1909 was the guest of honour at Bolton Socialist Party’s ‘Merrie England Bazaar’.

A darker side

There was a darker side to his behaviour. Possibly through the stress of his campaigning, he developed a strong taste for whisky and reached the point where he was consuming a full bottle every day. He enjoyed the social life of the London clubs and was always something of a hedonist, enjoying ‘the good life’. He was hugely attractive to women but also had several affairs with men, which seem to go back to his early 20s. Homosexuality was still a crime and Grayson had to tread carefully to avoid being exposed.

Grayson remained an MP for just three years. He lost the seat in 1910 but continued his socialist campaigning activities. On October 23rd he was speaking to a packed meeting in Bolton’s Temperance Hotel, no doubt amused by the irony of the location. By then, he was making a tenuous living from his speaking engagements though finding it difficult to maintain his lavish lifestyle and increasingly heavy drinking.

Marriage to Ruth

In November 1912 he married Ruth Nightingale, an actress whose stage name was ‘Ruth Norreys’. She was the daughter of an affluent Bolton family. Her father, John Webster Nightingale, was a banker and he shared a substantial house in Smithills with his wife Georgina and housekeeper/maid Jane Mackereth. Victor and Ruth had a daughter, Elaine, in 1914. The relationship with the Nightingales was to become increasingly important for Grayson over the next eight years.

By 1914 his health had deteriorated and he found himself in the Bankruptcy Court. Friends and supporters, helped by his father in law, assisted. Everything changed when war broke out in November of that year.

Most left-wing socialists were bitterly opposed to the war. Grayson took a very different stance, not only publicly supporting the Allies but advocating conscription and demonising the German people as a war-mongering race. Grayson spent some time in Australia speaking on pro-war platforms, then returned to Britain and continued to support the war effort, possibly with some financial help from the Lloyd George government. In 1917, he and his wife Ruth went to New Zealand where she had some theatrical engagements. Whilst there, he was involved in socialist activity but continued to support the war effort, joining the New Zealand armed forces (ANZAC) in 1917.  He took part in some of the heaviest fighting of the war and was wounded at the Battle of Passchendaele, one of the bloodiest encounters in the whole conflict.

He returned to England in 1918 and was devastated by the death of his wife in childbirth, in February of that year. The baby was stillborn. Grayson agreed with the Nightingales for them to look after the four-years’ old Elaine, who lived at the family home. By then, the family had moved to ‘Ellerslie’, a large house in The Haulgh. Grayson, living in London, was a regular visitor to Bolton, each weekend, with his own room and even pet dog which he named ‘Nunquam’, the pen name of Robert Blatchford. He kept a hidden supply of whisky under the floorboards of his room. His visits were ostensibly to see his young daughter. I wonder if there were other motives?

Post-war uncertainties

Grayson had little involvement in post-war politics. His estrangement from the Labour Party was virtually complete. Harry Taylor quotes a letter from parliamentary journalist Sidney Campion suggesting that Grayson “was a disillusioned socialist turned Tory” and his father-in-law approached Tory leader Bonar Law to employ him as a propagandist. The source of this came from Charles Sixsmith, who was part of Bolton’s ‘Walt Whitman’ circle which included another Nightingale – Fred, who lived, on Chorley Old Road. Whether Fred and John were related isn’t clear but they may have been closer in their politics than historians have given them credit for. John W. Nightingale was a friend of Sixsmith’s, who was a prosperous capitalist, with mills in Farnworth. He was a socialist and also, like Grayson, bi-sexual. Did Grayson and Sixsmith know each other? John W. Nightingale, certainly in later years, was a member of the Swedenborgian church which had much in common with the mystical beliefs of the Whitmanites.


The strangest part of the ‘Grayson Story’ comes next. In September 1920 he left his apartment in London accompanied by two men, telling his landlady that he would be away for some time. In fact, he was never seen again, at least definitively. Some accounts suggest he was murdered, others that he left the country to start a new life. At the time, there was a ‘cash for honours’ scandal brewing which Grayson may have threatened to expose and there are suggestions that he was ‘removed’ by a shadowy character called Maundy Gregory, who had links to the intelligence services.

His daughter Elaine was devastated by his disappearance, being told by Jane, the family maid, that her father “will never come again because he’s going to travel…but he’ll never forget you…and one day perhaps he may come back.”

There are several accounts of him being seen, in places as varied as Melbourne, Madrid and on the London tube. However, there seems to be strong evidence that he was living in Maidstone, Kent, in the 1930s.

He was not in communication with his parents in Liverpool or his Bolton in-laws. However, Elaine’s grandmother Georgina seems to have been convinced that Grayson might return to Bolton and ‘kidnap’ the young girl. She lived a cosseted life being driven to and from school in the family car – a rare luxury at the time – and only being permitted a very limited social life.

During the Second World War there was a government-sponsored investigation into Grayson’s disappearance, led by the well-respected Chief Inspector Arthur Askew, of Scotland Yard. The report was never published but subsequently, after his retirement, Askew sent a short note to his biographer Reg Groves saying “Grayson married – settled in Kent”.

There seems to be a possibility that Grayson died in an air raid in 1941. Certainly, his mother-in-law’s almost hysterical fear of Grayson’s re-appearance had diminished by the early 1940s. Georgina herself died in 1942.

Parentage questions

There is one final twist to the story, relating to Victor’s parentage. There had long been suggestions that his parents in Liverpool were not his biological parents. As Georgina lay on her death bed, accompanied by maidservant Jane and her grand-daughter Elaine, she kept muttering the name ‘The Marlboroughs’. Elaine was puzzled by this, but after Georgina’s death, Jane said to her “Elaine, don’t you realise your grandmother was telling you who your father really was?”

Amongst Grayson historians this story is treated with different emphasis. Harry Taylor rejects the possibility that Grayson was the illegitimate child of the powerful Marlborough family, whose members included Winston Churchill – with whom Grayson enjoyed a friendly relationship whilst in the  Commons, and after. David Clark is not so sure and offers evidence that the story might be true.

There are so many ‘known unknowns’ in the Grayson story, above all what happened to him after 1920 and the riddle of his parentage. As Jeremy Corbyn writes in his foreword to Harry Taylor’s book, says “the ever-secretive British state knows the answer, somewhere in Scotland Yard or the Home Office, the truth is known.” He’s right, and I think there is more to be discovered about his Bolton links, including the role of his father-in-law John W. Nightingale and the maid who seemed to know much, Jane Mackereth.

I am indebted to Lord David Clark, Harry Taylor, Sheila Davidson and Julia Lamara (Bolton History Centre) for their assistance. Harry Taylor’s book Victor Grayson: in search of Britain’s lost revolutionary, is published by Pluto (2021), David Clark’s Victor Grayson – the man and the mystery is published by Quartet (2016).

Use your local shop

As well as being able to order directly, my books are available in a number of shops across the North-West and beyond. At the moment they are:

  • Justicia Fair Trade Shop, Knowsley Street, Bolton
  • Ebb and Flo, 12 Gillibrand Street, Chorley
  • The Wright Reads, Winter Hey Lane, Horwich
  • Bunbury’s Real Ale Shop, 397 Chorley Old Road
  • Pendle Heritage Centre, Barrowford
  • Smethurst’s Newsagents, Markland Hill
  • Pike Snack Shack, Rivington
  • Horwich Heritage Centre
  • A Small Good Thing, Church Road Bolton
  • Books and Bygones, Chorley
  • Carnforth Bookshop
  • The Lakeland Gallery, Bo’ness
  • Penrallt Bookshop, Machynlleth
  • Beach Hut Gallery, Kents Bank

HS2: the wrong mindset

The response to the Government’s ‘Integrated Rail Plan’ (IRP) has been almost universally hostile. The chopping of the ’eastern leg’ from Birmingham to Leeds and ‘scaling back’ of the east-west line (Northern Powerhouse Rail’) has invoked particular ire, with cries of ‘betrayal of the North’ coming from an unlikely coalition of so-called ‘red wall’ Tories and Labour.

But..there were good arguments for a fundamental review of HS2, particularly in the light of Covid, which many people in transport think will lead to long-term changes in people’s travel behaviour – in particular, less business travel and commuting and more leisure journeys (less time sensitive).

HS2 as originally conceived – a very high-speed route (speeds of up to 225 m/ph or 360 km/h) from London to Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, represents a particular approach to transport and wider spatial planning, which prioritises the major cities, at the expense (unless there is a complementary plan in place) of smaller towns and cities. In his Foreword to the IRP Boris Johnson recognises the adverse effect that HS2 to Leeds would have had on other places currently served by fast and frequent trains: “Under those plans,  many places on the existing main lines, such as Doncaster, Huddersfield, Wakefield and Leicester would have seen little improvement, or a worsening, in their services..” The same applies to the ‘western leg’ to Manchester, which is still going ahead: so – tough on Stockport, Stoke-on-Trent, Macclesfield, Stafford and Rugby.

The thinking behind HS2 reflects a particular approach to transport which I would argue is 20 years out of date. It is a move away from the earlier car-led approach of the 1960s which saw motorway building, rail closures, and towns and cities carved up for the motor car. The ‘Very High-Speed Rail’ approach prioritises the needs of major cities and ‘out of town’ development with huge parkway developments, in the case of HS2 at Birmingham Interchange. The proposed ‘dead-end’ stations at Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds would have been poorly connected with the rest of the rail network but developers would (or still will) have a field day with opportunities for major development schemes around the three termini. And anyone who knows much about railways will recognise that terminal stations are bad news, soaking up capacity, limiting the full opportunities of fast, long-distance trains.

The ‘very high-speed’ thinking behind HS2 means that you can’t bother with serving even quite large towns and cities along the route as it slows everything down creating longer end to end journeys which ‘the model’ hates. And of course the other big down side of ‘very high speed rail’ is that the need for such high speeds means you have to build a railway that is very straight – either a lot of tunnelling which is costly and very destructive on the environment, or ploughing through established communities and sensitive landscapes. Running long trains at 225 m/ph sucks up a lot of energy.

There is a further argument against HS2 which is more difficult to prove but has certainly been raised in some academic papers. High-speed rail, or any transport corridor, is a two-way street. The pro-HS2 hype is full of talk about how HS2 will ‘level-up’ the North. Equally, it could do more to benefit London and the south-east. Why should firms bother to maintain a major regional office in Manchester or Birmingham when you can be in London in next to no time? A far more likely economic generator would be better inter and intra-regional rail links across the North and Midlands, which happens to be what most people say in opinion polls, when asked.

This approach of ‘very high speed rail’ can work if you’re a country the size of France, China or the United States. The German approach is more nuanced with significant stretches of high-speed rail but part of a well integrated network of inter-regional and local services. It is less suitable to a smaller country such as Britain, with densely populated areas. One of the most trumpeted-arguments in support of HS2 has been the idea that it ‘frees up capacity’ permitting freight and regional passenger services. That’s only true up to a point and the main capacity benefits of HS2 will be south of Rugby. Where it frees up capacity in the North it is at the expense of existing InterCity services being re-routed via HS2 meaning that major centres like Stockport and Stoke will lose out. If we’re told that the existing InterCity services (3 an hour Manchester – London, pre-Pandemic) will continue, you wonder a) what the point of HS2 is in the first place, and crucially b) where all the extra passengers wanting to get to and from London in 71 minutes will come from.

A third approach would be a more integrated rail-based strategy with a core InterCity network which would aim for speeds of up to 160 m/ph and link major centres across the country, with good connections to regional, local rail and light rail services. This would be a bit more like the German approach, taking greater account of the needs of large towns and cities between the main centres, with good connectivity to all parts of the rail network. Such an approach would be a hybrid of new and existing, upgraded, lines and it would go through to Carlisle, Newcastle, Glasgow and Edinburgh.

It could be argued that the newly-published IRP does that, though I’d say it’s more of a ‘politics-led’ plan than anything that is strategic. It tried (and failed) to satisfy politicians in the North with a mix of new and upgraded lines and electrification schemes, notably the Midland Mail Line taking electric trains beyond the south Midlands to Derby and Nottingham, Chesterfield, Sheffield and Leeds.

Bradford is the big loser in the IRP, so as a concession the short section of line from Leeds to Bradford via New Pudsey will be electrified, shaving a few minutes of journey times. Quite what the trains do when they get to Bradford isn’t said, presumably they’ll speed back to Leeds. Yet all trains from Leeds to Bradford go beyond the city, to Halifax, Hebden Bridge, Rochdale and Manchester or across to Burnley, Blackburn and Preston. Any sensible strategy would have seen those lines fully electrified as part of the Bradford scheme. Even better would be a ‘Bradford CrossRail’ for existing regional and additional InterCity services, joining up the two separate routes into the city and permitting a ‘scissors’ shape network north-west of Leeds which would permit new journey options and improved capacity into and out of Bradford.

The ‘core’ of HS2’s western leg, to Manchester, will be a major engineering challenge and aims to link up with ‘Northern Powerhouse Rail’ and serve Manchester Airport. The route to Scotland and further north is likely to be re-considered with the proposed new ‘Golborne Loop’ scrapped. A sensible strategy for the ‘West Coast Main Line’ north of Crewe would see maximum use of the existing route with more capacity, track realignment to get faster speeds and some new sections, north and south of the border, to improve overall journey times but still serve main centres such as Warrington (with interchange with Northern Powerhouse Rail as per IRP), Wigan, Preston, Lancaster, Oxenholme (for the southern Lakes) Penrith and Carlisle.

I remain unconvinced that a terminal station at Manchester Piccadilly is the right solution. Termini are operationally difficult and soak up capacity. A through station that would help solve the ‘Castlefield Corridor’ dilemma, perhaps underground, would have been a better solution.

Perhaps the biggest criticism is the length of time the proposals will actually take – with completion of the Manchester parts of the scheme being well into the 2040s. So I won’t be around to see them!

The Rail Reform Group has produced a good statement on HS2 (sub-titled ‘A considered response’ which is available on 

Lancashire Loominary Publications

Allen Clarke/Teddy Ashton – Lancashire’s Romantic Radical

This is my latest book and tells the story of Lancashire’s errant genius – cyclist, philosopher, unsuccessful politician, amazingly popular dialect writer.  The book outlines the life and writings of one of Lancashire’s most prolific – and interesting – writers. Allen Clarke (1863-1935) was the son of mill workers and began work in the mill himself at the age of 11. It is a completely new edition of the 2009 edition, and includes an entirely new chapter on his railway writings which include Horwich Loco Works, ‘The Club Train’ and the adventures of Ginger the Donkey.


Moorlands, Memories and Reflections

2020 was the centenary of the publication of Allen Clarke’s Moorlands and Memories, sub-titled ‘rambles and rides in the fair places of Steam-Engine Land’. It’s a lovely book, very readable and entertaining, even if he sometimes got his historical facts slightly wrong. It was set in the area which is now described as ‘The West Pennine Moors’ It also included some fascinating accounts of life in Bolton itself in the years between 1870 and the First World War, with accounts of the great engineers’ strike of 1887, the growth of the co-operative movement and the many characters whom Clarke knew as a boy or young man.

My book is a centenary tribute to Clarke’s classic – Moorlands, Memories and Reflections. It isn’t a ‘then and now’ sort of thing though I do make some historical comparisons, and speculate what Clarke would have thought of certain aspects of his beloved Lancashire today.

With Walt Whitman in Bolton – Lancashire’s Links to Walt Whitman.

This charts the remarkable story of Bolton’s long-lasting links to America’s great poet. Bolton’s links with the great American poet Walt Whitman make up one of the most fascinating footnotes in literary history. From the 1880s a small group of Boltonians began a correspondence with Whitman and two (John Johnston and J W Wallace) visited the poet in America. Each year on Whitman’s birthday (May 31) the Bolton group threw a party to celebrate his memory, with poems, lectures and passing round a loving cup of spiced claret. Each wore a sprig of lilac in Whitman’s memory.

The group was close to the founders of the ILP – Keir Hardie, Bruce and Katharine Bruce Glasier and Robert Blatchford. The links with Whitman lovers in the USA continue to this day.

The Works: a tale of love, lust, labour and locomotives

I’ve had a steady flow of orders for The Works, my novel set mostly in Horwich Loco Works in the 1970s and 1980s, but bringing the tale up to date and beyond – a fictional story of a workers’ occupation, Labour politics, a ‘people’s franchise’ and Chinese investment in UK rail.  I’ve had lots of good reactions to it, with some people reading it in one session. The Morning Star hated it. It has been particularly popular in Horwich, which you would kind of expect, but it was nice to see people who have spent a lifetime in the loco works telling me how much they enjoyed it.



Christmas 2021 (offers end December 31st 2021 but check)


Delivery Address…………………………………………………………………….


Post code…………………….



Quantity Title Price ( + delivery)
  Lancashire’s Romantic Radical 15.00 + £3
  With Walt Whitman in Bolton 6.00 + £3
   Moorlands, Memories and Reflections                                                                                                             15.00 + £3
  The Works 6.00   + £3

See above re bundles – please note:

  • If you buy any two, the lowest priced book is free
  • You can buy all four for £30 plus postage if required
  • Maximum postage on all orders is £4 within the UK. Enquire for overseas rates
  • Local delivery (free) is by Bolton Bicycling Bookshop, otherwise Royal Mail

Please send cheque for total amount made to ‘Paul Salveson’to 109 Harpers Lane, Bolton BL1 6HU.


If paying by BACS the account details are:

Dr P S Salveson (it’s a personal account) sort code 53-61-07

A/C no. 23448954.

Please email me with your order details and put your name and book e.g. ‘MMR’ or ‘Works’ as the reference when paying.

Lancashire Loominary 109 Harpers Lane BOLTON BL1 6HU

Phone: 07795 008691



Black Friday Deals no thanks!

Black Friday hype and all that

Sorry, I’m not offering any ‘amazing reductions’ for Black Friday. Instead I’m adding £5 on to all orders received on Friday November 26th, which will be donated to the Railway Children Charity.

So do please take advantage of this stunning offer!


Integrated Rail Plan and all that

Idle thoughts of an HS2 Sceptic..
A few thoughts on yesterday’s announcement on HS2 etc. – ‘The Integrated Rail Plan’. Speaking personallly, I have never been keen on HS2, a highly over-engineered scheme which would benefit the major city centres (London in particular) at the expense of everywhere else. It’s interesting that the IRP admits that the plans for HS2 to Leeds would have given many towns a worse service. It’s bizarre that there’s so much adverse comment coming from Yorkshire people about the plan when actually they do quite well out of it, on the whole.
There has been a huge amount of ill-informed tosh talked about the announcement, the fact is the original HS2 project had long since veered out of control with costs mounting to astronomic levels. Add on the effects of the Pandemic and long-term changes in travel patterns, a fundamental review of the project was necessary.
There is quite a lot that has not so far been in the public domain and it is worth looking at the full document for yourselves. My own view is that it’s an improvement on what was on the table before but still many questions. Taking HS2 into Manchestr Piccadilly with a new 6-platform surface level station will be massive challenge, working out a route from Manchester Airport. Will it do anything to resolve the problems of the Castlefield Corridor? Probably not, and it will be a long time coming anyway. Remember that Stockport, Macclesfield and Stoke all lose out from HS2 with fewer and probably slower trains. There is reference in the Plan to one HS2 service an hour serving them.
It sounds like Crewe will keep its existing station (unless I missed something) offering much better links to services to North Wales, east Midlands via Stoke, etc., with a link back onto the HS2 route into Manchester Airport and the city centre. It keeps its options open about taking HS2 services northwards, suggesting that the original ‘Golborne Loop’ may be scrapped. So a likely scenario is that HS2 will head north on existing WCML tracks, which could be enhanced, with Warrington being a major interchange with ‘Northern Powerhouse Rail’.
Folk in Wigan have always assumed HS2 would be a benefit but I have my doubts and suspect that it will not feature in HS2 stopping patterns (it never has done as far as I can see). Warrington, Preston and Lancaster will benefit – Wigan has a job to do in getting HS2 services to stop there. It might just help make the case for its own bi-level station connecting Wallgate and NW with better integration between local and InterCity/HS2 services.
Forging a new west-east route from Liverpool to Leeds, connecting into HS2 at the Airport (a strong proposal of IRP), has much to be said for it, with a bi-level interchange at Warrington. But, again, getting into central Manchester will be very difficult and the new route eastwards to Huddersfield (not Bradford) makes sense on a sheet of paper but also poses engineering challenges. Presumably it will use re-opened or re-bored Standedge tunnels (currently there are two disused single bores).It’s good news that freight is being taken into account and there will be capacity and gauge clerarance for container traffic.
Getting beyond Huddersfield into Leeds will be hard work – the LNWR decided to build a new line from Mirfield into Leeds in 1900 to relieve congestion on its Dewsbury route. You certainly won’t be able to use the existing infrastructure without completely screwing local services.
It’s all politics, and staying in Yorkshire it’s disappointing that electrification of Calder Valley will only go from Leeds to Bradford. There will be massive disruption to the Huddersfield/Standedge route over the next 20 years and having an electrified alternative, via Bradford and Hebden Bridge, would have brought many benefits. But much still to play for.

HS2 lacks a mandate

HS2 lacks popular support….scrap it!

Every opinion poll conducted on the merits of HS2 show a majority of people in the UK as a whole firmly against it. Only in London does it actually have more support than opposition, which says a lot. A 2021 YouGov poll showed support for HS2 across the UK at 25% with 39% against and 11% ‘don’t know’ – the rest were neither for nor against. In London, the only region in support, 30% were in favour and 27% against, showing a large drop from the previous year.In the North of England, support was at 24% and opposition 42%.

Another UK-wide poll, conducted by Statista in 2020, showed UK 26% in favour and 42% in opposition.

A recent survey was undertaken by Redfield and Wilton Strategies and their findings were published in June this year. They tested general awareness of the HS2 project and found that to be high. They went on to comment: “Amidst this considerable awareness of the project, there is substantial opposition to it: a plurality (43%) of Britons aware of HS2 say they oppose it, compared to 29% who support HS2 and 25% who neither support nor oppose it. In April and May 2021 we found a similar 45% of those in the West Midlands metropolitan area who said they were familiar with HS2 were in opposition to the railway project.”

The pollsters also found that people view it as poor value for money: “a majority (56%) of Britons aware of HS2 say that it is a bad investment that does not represent good value for money, whereas a quarter (25%) believe it is a good investment and 18% are unsure. Following such statements, 48% of this sample think that HS2 should be scrapped and 33% think that it should not be scrapped, while 19% do not know. This demonstrates that opposition to HS2 is strong, with a plurality of Britons preferring to see HS2 scrapped than its continued development.

The professional magazine, The Engineer, undertook a poll in November 2020 which found that 77% of its readers wanted HS2 cancelled with only 23% in favour of keeping it.

From my own experience, people who oppose HS2 are not ‘petrol heads’ who want the money poured into new roads, nor Thatcherites who hate public spending. They want the money to go into improving public transport, rail, tram and bus.

All the evidence suggests that HS2 is unpopular and people think it should be scrapped. The sums of money we’re talking about – £100 billion or more – are eye-watering. The case for HS2 before the Pandemic was flimsy, to say the least. Today, it’s non-existent.

Finally, given the amounts of money involved, HS2 highlights the lack of democracy in the UK. In Switzerland, with its excellent transport network, major projects are subject to a popular vote. HS2 cries out for a referendum. I’m 100% sure that people would vote for it to be scrapped and the money put to better use in improving the rail network as a whole.


Salvo 298 on HS2

The Northern Weekly Salvo

109 Harpers Lane Bolton BL1 6HU email:

No. 298 November 16th 2021                        

Salveson’s half-nakedly political digest of railwayness, tripe and secessionist nonsense from Up North. Sometimes weekly, usually not; definitely Northern.

General gossips

This is a slimmed-down Salvo, which you may welcome. I’ve been shilly-shallying about doing one before the publication of the ‘Integrated Rail Plan’ this Thursday setting out the future of rail investment in the UK, following on from the Williams-Shapps Plan for Rail which is really more about how the railways will be run. Arguably they were published back to front but so it goes. I’ll do an extended and illustrated Salvo 299 next week. Promise.

HS2: North is better beawt (or Salvo’s Solutions No. 1)

Or, better without it. It looks like the Whole Industry Strategic Plan, which we are assured will be published on Thursday, will announce the scrapping of the ‘eastern leg’ of HS2, the bit from Birmingham –to Leeds. Cue wails of anguish from Labour MPs and some Tories about the North once again being ‘betrayed’ by this hypocritical government whose talk of ‘levelling up’ is so much nonsense. Oh yeah? As readers may have intuited, I’m no fan of Boris Johnson or the Tories but it has to be said: HS2 would have done nowt for th’North, or ‘nothing for the North’. It was an ill-conceived project that should never have been given such credibility in the first place. My impression, supported by opinion polls, is that it was never popular amongst us simple-minded Northern folk who would much prefer a bus shelter outside the Ainsworth Arms to avoid getting soaked waiting for the 526 bus.

Yes, I’m being daft but it has surprised me that so many people who should know better were taken in by the pro-HS2 hype. It was anything but ‘green’ and would have hurt the North’s economy. Nervous Tory MPs, particularly in so-called ‘Red Wall’ seats, supported it (probably against their instincts) because they wanted to show that investment was going into the North of England. Labour wanted it because they like big public sector-led projects. Yet HS2 would have done the North few favours, sucking investment out of the North and into London and the South-East. It would have drained money out of transport budgets stopping much needed projects, with a far better return, not getting the go ahead.

And if you asked those simple-minded Northern folk what they wanted instead of HS2 the answers were generally pretty sensible: investment in local and regional rail projects, better east-west rail links, improved bus services. Let’s hope we see some of that in Thursday’s announcement: projects that can be delivered within a five to eight year time frame, not in two decades – electrification and upgrade of all three Trans-Pennine routes, rail re-openings , sorting out the Castlefield Corridor to allow more trains to run. And Bradford should not be forgotten: right decision to scrap Northern Powerhouse Rail but a Bradford CrossRail could be delivered at a fraction of the cost, much more quickly with the added bonus of demolishing some of the hideous new shopping centre that’s just been erected.

Salvo’s Solutions No. 2: Community Rail

After nearly thirty years I’ve decided it was time to do a new version of New Futures for Rural Rail, reviewing the success of ‘Community Rail’ and making a few suggestions about where it can go in the future. Look out for a feature in RAIL magazine in a couple of weeks and a longer piece in its sister publication Rail Review about the same time. I’m writing a much longer paper (‘Building on success: future directions for Community Rail’) which will be on my website after publication of the RAIL feature. The summary, still at draft stage, says:

This paper argues that the current restructuring within the railway industry presents a unique opportunity for Community Rail (CR) to up its game and become more ambitious, building on its strengths and becoming more entrepreneurial. It needs to shout its achievements much more loudly, or risk losing vital external support.

Maintaining and developing a close partnership with its existing partners in the industry, particularly the train operating companies, is crucial. Train companies and Network Rail should work with the Community Rail Network and CRPs to build a stronger awareness amongst all railway staff about the value and importance of Community Rail. ’Community Rail’ should become a professional career with appropriate accreditation, in partnership with the further and higher education sector.

Building an equally strong relationship with the new Great British Railways (GBR) is of equal importance. I argue for a GBR Community Unit with a dedicated director at headquarters level and community engagement mangers within the regional divisions, working closely with the TOCs and CRPs who should be incentivised to develop ambitious projects, assisted by a ‘Community Rail Enterprise Challenge’ funded by GBR.

These projects could range from developing integrated bus links, promoting walking and cycling schemes including bike hire, to station and on-train catering and other station activities which bring passenger and wider benefits. Making greater use of railway land e.g. for cultivating edible produce, is a further opportunity.

Community Rail should be resourced to take on issues around mental health, hate crime, anti-social behaviour and loneliness, each of which impact on the railways in different ways.

Local government, including the ‘Combined Authorities’, have a crucial part to play. Community Rail can help address wider policy areas beyond a narrow ‘transport’ focus.

New community rail partnerships should be encouraged through a ‘Community Rail Partnership Growth Fund’ which helps CRPs get off the ground and develop, rather than using existing resources which would have the effect of ‘spreading the jam more thinly’ and penalising existing CRPs.

If you would like the draft of the full paper emailing to you, let me know. It will be posted on my website in a couple of weeks.

Christmas is coming so buy my books (please)

My new biography of Lancashire writer, railway lover, cyclist and philosopher Allen Clarke (aka ‘Teddy Ashton’) is now available. Salvo subscribers can get Lancashire’s Romantic Radical for £15 instead of normal price of £18.99. I’ve some copies of my Moorlands, Memories and Reflections for £15 (reduced from £21) as well as my novel set in Horwich Loco Works (The Works) for £5. More esoteric but interesting is With Walt Whitman in Bolton: spirituality, sex and socialism in a Northern Mill Town. Also £5,not that much sex in it to be honest but it has compensations. See Prices are plus £3 post and packing (free if local to Bolton)

OK I’ll leave it at that for now but look out for a more normal illustrated Salvo299 next week

NEWS Uncategorized

Building on success: future directions for Community Rail


future directions for  ‘Community Rail’

Prof. Paul Salveson

Chair, South-East Lancashire Community Rail Partnership, Co-ordinator Rail Reform Group, Visiting Professor Universities of Huddersfield and Bolton, founder member of Community Rail Network  (all in a personal capacity!)


This paper is aimed at a range of people active in the rail and transport industry as well as in the wider public sector – local government, combined authorities – and the ‘third sector’. I’m grateful to many friends and colleagues for their input to the paper, though I bear responsibility for what’s in it. I was involved in setting up the movement that became ‘Community Rail’ in the early 1990s, through a report called New Futures for Rural Rail. We launched it at the National Railway Museum in 1992. This paper is my own personal revision of ‘New Futures’, throwing up ideas and suggestions for Community Rail that can go forward over the next ten years.

Today, with over 70 community rail partnerships and hundreds of station groups, ‘community rail’ is no longer a purely ‘rural’ initiative, it includes inner urban areas as much as rural branch lines. It is active across a wide range of activities which back then we’d have thought way beyond the scope of what railways should be about. Mental health, loneliness, hate crime, addressing climate change, and lots more.

What they add up to is making rail more people-friendly and encouraging more people to use the train and value their local station as a community hub. That feeds back into the really big one of the Climate Emergency.

Who was it who once said ‘Think Global – Act Local’?

I see this paper as very much ‘work in progress’ and welcome feedback.


Paul Salveson, Bolton, November 2021


  1. A unique opportunity
  2. Are we getting short of steam?
  3. Will TOCs still have a role in Community Rail?
  4. The continuing importance of Local Government
  5. Community Rail has grown – but there’s still work to do
  6. Station friends, partnerships and business adoption
  7. The new railway architecture
  8. Great British Railways and ‘Community Rail’
  9. What should a Community rail partnership be about?
  10. Catalysts for change
  11. Inter-City Community Rail?
  12. Maximising Social Value
  13. Developing ‘Community Rail Enterprise’
  14. Back to the land
  15. Arts-led rail regeneration
  16. Away from ‘big is best’ mentality in procurement
  17. Building awareness in the industry
  18. Professionalising Community Rail
  19. Rail re-openings
  20. Where next?

BUILDING ON SUCCESS: future directions for ‘Community Rail’

 “Community rail groups already play an important role in supporting a thriving rail network across the country, including through strengthening initiatives with local understanding, improving rail’s social impact and engaging partners such as schools and local businesses. Together, the regional divisions and community rail groups will be able to work more closely with each other, helping to maximise recovery from the pandemic by reinvigorating rail travel for leisure and tourism, particularly in our protected landscapes. They can also advise on how to improve active travel connections to stations, supporting connectivity in rural areas and working together to improve facilities at stations and on trains.” – Great British Railways: The Williams-Shapps Plan for Rail, 2021   s. 13 p.45


This paper argues that the current restructuring within the railway industry presents a unique opportunity for Community Rail (CR) to up its game and become more ambitious, building on its strengths and becoming more entrepreneurial. It needs to shout its achievements much more loudly, or risk losing vital external support.

Maintaining and developing a close partnership with its existing partners in the industry, particularly the train operating companies, is crucial. Train companies and Network Rail should work with the Community Rail Network and CRPs to build a stronger awareness amongst all railway staff about the value and importance of Community Rail. ’Community Rail’ should become a professional career with appropriate accreditation, in partnership with the further and higher education sector.

Building an equally strong relationship with the new Great British Railways (GBR) is of equal importance. I argue for a GBR Community Unit with a dedicated director at headquarters level and community engagement mangers within the regional divisions, working closely with the TOCs and CRPs who should be incentivised to develop ambitious projects, assisted by a ‘Community Rail Enterprise Challenge’ funded by GBR.

These projects could range from developing integrated bus links, promoting walking and cycling schemes including bike hire, to station and on-train catering and other station activities which bring passenger and wider benefits. Making greater use of railway land e.g. for cultivating edible produce, is a further opportunity.

Community Rail should be resourced to take on issues around mental health, hate crime, anti-social behaviour and loneliness, each of which impact on the railways in different ways.

Local government, including the ‘Combined Authorities’, have a crucial part to play. Community Rail can help address wider policy areas beyond a narrow ‘transport’ focus.

New community rail partnerships should be encouraged through a ‘Community Rail Partnership Growth Fund’ which helps CRPs get off the ground and develop, rather than using existing resources which would have the effect of ‘spreading the jam more thinly’ and penalising existing CRPs. 

  1. A unique opportunity

The railway industry is going through some major changes, following on from the Williams-Shapps report. Nothing will stay the same.

‘Community Rail’ (CR) and ‘community rail partnerships’ (CRPs) get very positive mention, even with some suggestions that they could potentially take on the running of some local lines (going back to the early days of community rail and ‘microfranchising’). That’s too big a leap for now, but while the industry is going through big changes, not least with the formation of Great British Railways and post-Covid recovery challenges, serious thought should be given to building on the success of Community Rail in the next ten years, rather than assuming it just carries on ‘as normal’. All the encouragement that could be possibly asked for is in the white paper. It’s too good an opportunity to miss.

Rufus Boyd, Programme Director (Passenger and Freight Services) at GBR’s Transition Team told me: “It is a challenging time for the rail industry and high on the agenda post-Covid is the need to demonstrate value for money.  Community Rail Partnerships (CRPs) have proved themselves time and again as making a difference to customers at a price the railway can afford. I hope that CRPs continue to build on the success that they’ve so far demonstrated as we move towards building a railway that puts customers and its communities at its heart.”

It’s all about building on success, not a drastic change of direction. CRPs need to be more ambitious. One TOC manager bemoaned the modest scale of some CRP’s ambitions, proposing projects costing in the ‘low thousands’ when they should be developing initiatives substantially greater that can demonstrate value (not purely monetary but that’s important) and make a real difference.

So, my view – having been involved in Community Rail since its inception – is that now is the time to demonstrate that it can do much more – contributing towards attracting passengers back to rail and bringing innovation to local rail services which contribute towards reducing costs. And, of course, the big challenge is ensuring that rail plays the fullest possible part in addressing climate change – which takes us back to filling those trains.

This paper argues for a wider role for CR, embedded firmly alongside the new structure which will be led by Great British Railways (GBR). It should retain and expand its independence, dynamism and creativity. I’m talking reform and creative evolution, not revolution. Let’s use the ‘four pillars’ enshrined in the Government’s Community Rail Development Strategy, and take each of them further. Just to remind you, they are:

  • Providing a voice for the community
  • Promoting sustainable and healthy travel (including ‘the extra mile’)
  • Bringing communities together and supporting diversity and inclusion
  • Supporting social and economic development


In the light of post-Covid challenges, I’d be inclined to go back to one of the early objectives of Community Rail and add a fifth – ‘growing ridership and reducing costs’. Reducing costs? Yes, not through cuts but through better ways of delivering local projects and provision of services – through more agile, locally-based agencies.

Each of the pillars can reinforce each other, like any well-constructed building. Lots has been achieved already and the focus of this paper is perhaps more on the fourth pillar, social and economic development (and perhaps the suggested ‘fifth amendment’), but all are relevant and complementary.

  1. Are we getting short of steam?

There is a view amongst some that ‘community rail’ itself is not punching its weight. One senior industry source told me: “At the moment I feel CR lacks energy and dynamism…….it must diversify to survive. It needs to represent a broader church of interest and interests…spread its wings into hard urban areas… It must engage with bodies that represent the under-privileged and help them with basic skills, possibly those that lead to proper employment in the railway. It must better support children’s education and make a contribution to making the railway safer for everyone to use; women, the disabled and those with mental health or learning issues. CR can help us, along with station adopters, to wage war on crime and vandalism on the railway.”

I showed this quote to a good friend with long experience in CR – his response was unprintable! The unpalatable fact is that it’s good to be challenged, even when we may not agree with what’s being said.

Many CRPs are already active in these ‘hard urban areas’. But, whether you think that statement is fair or unfair, if that is someone’s perception (and someone with considerable influence) it needs to be listened to carefully. What it illustrates is that CRPs are quite poor at trumpeting their own successes. In such a media-savvy age that is a real weakness that needs addressing more strongly. Even local schemes, if they’re innovative and exciting, could get national exposure but too often CRPs neglect the all-important press release.

CR is already active in many ‘hard urban areas’ and the work of Community Rail Lancashire in education is outstanding. Similarly, the work of CRPs such as The Bentham Line and Cumbria around mental health issues is amazing and well recognised through numerous awards. South East Lancashire CRP has done pioneering work around ‘hate crime’ and certainly works in ‘hard’ urban areas. But it’s patchy – and anyone in CR would say they could do so much more with the right level of resources and long-term stability.

This paper suggests that the establishment of Great British Railways (GBR) offers real opportunities for Community Rail in the UK, particularly in England. I’m very much aware of the different approaches in Scotland and to an extent in Wales.

Northern Ireland remains isolated from CR despite attempts to change that. That said, I hope some of the suggestions in this paper will have a relevance to the devolved nations.


  1. Will train operators still have a role in Community Rail?

The train operating companies (TOCs) will be responsible for delivering the new post-franchising ‘Passenger Service Contracts’. Up to now, the TOCs have had a key role in working with community rail groups. Will that continue? It should. Within the PSCs the train operator should be expected to work positively with the relevant community rail organisations and station friends groups, with that co-operation clearly specified in the PSC. As one TOC manager, with years of experience in supporting community rail, said “The future scope of the TOC role is still to be finalised, but I think there needs to be some local responsibility and autonomy within the framework set by GBR, as GBR is never going to be in touch with local markets and community needs in the way a local TOC can be – so there’s some work to be done there to get that right, I reckon.”

He’s absolutely right. Will CR funding still be channelled through the TOC? It makes sense, to ensure a close structural link between TOC and CRP, and if an operator wished to support a particular initiative or project this should be encouraged. An interesting challenge is how to gauge the level of funding. Should CRPs be ‘paid by results’? Maybe it should be a combination of existing funding and support for an agreed action plan that meets the demands of the ‘pillars’ and encourages new development. It’s important that CRPs seek to broaden their funding base and not assume rail funding will continue forever at the same level. Lots of things CRPs do is of value way beyond the rail industry, and there are funding streams out there which we don’t tap into, e.g. in community arts, heritage lottery and numerous social funds.

The relationship between the CRP and TOC could, and should, expand. The TOCs will still be major employers and there is considerable scope for community rail partnerships working with TOCs on recruitment and training issues, helping them to recruit a diverse workforce, as well on the ‘classic’ community rail issues.

They should, in conjunction with the TOC, build links with the unions in the company. Hundreds of union members are involved positively in CR projects but the unions per se have little if any involvement, which is a pity.

Many TOCs have come to realise that CRPs are important conduits for passenger issues, feeding in informed and knowledgeable views that help shape a positive passenger experience and stimulate service improvements. And CRPs do important work in the community which help reduce trespass and vandalism, issues on everyone’s agenda, complementing the work of British Transport Police.

  1. The importance of local government and the Combined Authorities

Traditionally, local government has been a major sponsor of community rail and still hosts some CRPs; an average of about 20% of CRP funding comes from local authorities. However, the impact of cuts has forced some CRPs to re-think this reliance and become not-for-profit companies that are more dependent on funding through the railway industry, mostly via franchise contracts and their replacements in National Rail Contracts. This has saved many CRPs from disaster but at the same time creates a risk of over-reliance on a single source of funding.

Which comes back to the need to widen Community Rail’s funding base. Many CRPs value a local authority input even when they don’t supply any core funding but sometimes pots of money available via local authorities don’t get noticed.  Local government is the way in to a huge range of community services including housing, ‘place’, education, economic regeneration as well as remaining transport functions. In some ways, it’s the ‘non-transport’ areas which are the most important and where Community Rail could contribute more.

There needs to be stronger relationships with elected members, as well as council officers. At the end of the day it’s the members who make decisions on funding and unless the ground has been well prepared, the importance of a CRP will go unrecognised. Inviting elected members to events that demonstrate what the CRP is doing is easy to do, if the will is there. That should be re-inforced by regular press releases to the local media but also national media if it’s an interesting project that might just speak an editor’s interest.

There are specific issues in the ‘combined authorities’ – the former PTE areas in the North and Midlands. Strangely, a few have shied away from engagement with community rail, perhaps still seeing it as a ‘rural’ thing. Even some of the positive ones, such as Transport for Greater Manchester, are not able to provide core funding for CRPs – but do support individual projects. I think the combined authorities are missing a trick and the CRPs themselves need to up their game and ‘play the political game’ with the city region mayors, who wield increasing power and influence.

A predominantly urban CRP will have different issues and priorities to address than say a CRP along a rural line in East Anglia or Cornwall. Issues around diversity and inclusion, challenging hate crime, trespass and vandalism may well have a greater impact in urban areas, though even rural areas are sadly not immune to them.

A community-based approach can help bolster local line identities within a combined authority area such as Merseytravel, West and South Yorkshire, West Midlands or Greater Manchester, with scope for community art work at local stations which have been proved to reduce vandalism and create a more welcoming atmosphere. The Tyne and Wear Metro led the field on this but many more have followed. The Urban Transport Group, which does what it the label says, could help promote community rail initiatives  amongst its members and share good practice.

  1. Community Rail has grown in strength – but there’s still work to do

‘Community Rail’ (CR) has achieved a lot with very little since its formation in the mid-90s. There are now 74 CRPs across the UK, nearly all employing paid staff (at least south of the Scottish border) though this is often just one person, sometimes working part-time. Today’s community rail movement is in a far stronger position than it was 20 years ago.

Alongside CRPs there are hundreds of station adoption groups/station friends, many doing amazing work with no paid staff. CR is no longer a ‘would you mind?’ extra for operators. It is a contractual obligation. How well they get behind, promote and support CR counts towards their performance and thus the fees they can earn.

Community Rail is supported by the Community Rail Network which has grown in strength and influence and provides a range of services to its membership. It is a highly effective network, supported by Government and industry funding, light years away from the early days when we were very much finding our way. If I was completely honest I’d say that I regret that some of the ‘fun’ – but valuable – activities have been lost, not least the so-called ‘jollies’ to experience different regional railways around Europe, from which so much was learned and so many enduring friendships formed. One thing I’ve learned in 50 years of campaigning and community action is the importance of ‘the social’ and building networks based on trust.

Community rail partnerships are independent, but closely allied to, the railway industry and that’s the right position. Most of the things they do are with the agreement of TOCs or Network Rail. This independence can be an advantage, bringing new ideas and energy to rail. But it can also be like banging your head against a wall, with CRPs not taken seriously by rail managers in some parts of the business, franchise obligations or not. It’s fine having a ‘community manager’ but if their colleagues in other areas don’t know what you do, there can be problems. This is explored in a later section (‘Building Awareness in the Industry’).

One area that could be explored further is the potential for CRPs to collaborate or even combine with neighbouring partnerships to create stronger entities, without losing their grassroots base. Many CRPs (e.g. South East Lancs CRP and CR Lancashire) already work together and the former Sussex CRP has expanded to include a large swathe of the South-east and is now the South-east England CRP.

An alternative, perhaps preferable approach to mergers, could be for CRPs to share some ‘back office’ functions, e.g. finance and general administration, as well as some joint initiatives.

Could the Community Rail Network develop its own ‘regional divisions’ which work with GBR but also provide some administrative support to CRPs?

The proposed ‘Community Rail Enterprises’ (CREs – see below) could be based on community interest companies formed with ownership covering more than one CRP.

  1. Station friends, partnerships and business adoption

“There are real opportunities for the railways to do more to support local economic growth, such as encouraging and supporting small independent retailers on the rail estate. This could extend more widely, with greater emphasis on place and social value. Priorities will differ across the network: in rural areas, community rail partnerships can provide social connections to tackle loneliness, whilst easy connections to our national landscapes can improve health and wellbeing. Reusing existing rail buildings for services such as training, community hubs and education, as Network Rail has already done in Bolton, could reduce costs for the voluntary sector and improve services for local residents.”

  • Great British Railways: The Williams-Shapps Plan for Rail, 2021   15 p.44

The role of station friends/station partnerships should remain largely voluntary (as with rail user groups), working with CRPs, GBR and train companies and acting as a link into local communities, though some could do more at their stations e.g. cafes and art galleries.  It has to be said that depending on voluntary effort is not the panacea that some think. Nice if you can get it but the reality often is that it’s easier where you have a pool of retired professionals with time on their hands. As a general rule, the more deprived the area, the fewer these potential volunteers are to be found and more intensive efforts are needed to engage with communities and build local capacity and confidence. Working with local voluntary sector coordinating bodies (the ‘CVS’ network) is a useful ‘way in’. South East Lancashire CRP has a close relationship with Bolton CVS which manages its staff budget but also provides wider links to the area’s very diverse communities.

This is not at all to give up on volunteering in a railway context but to widen the pool of volunteers, combined with realism on how much can be achieved just with volunteers. This should involve working more closely with local voluntary sector co-ordinating bodies and offering volunteers something in return for their input. Traditionally, this has meant provision of some travel facilities, which can be a powerful inducement (and contrary to the fears of some rail managers, is seldom abused). But for younger people there could be scope for opening up training and employment opportunities on the railway.

Some station groups have potential to develop much more as social enterprises, particularly at some of the bigger locations, e.g. Kilmarnock and Bolton, with charitable organisations or CICs employing staff as well as using volunteers. Could some stations be ‘adopted’ by a local business/es to promote their services in return for provided some services at the station? Brighouse station is a good example of ‘group adoption’ by local businesses which included florists – the impact is massive.

Irlam is probably the outstanding example of ‘business adoption’, with the station building run by the Hamilton Davies Trust with a flourishing cafe and meeting space, enhanced by superb artwork and memorabilia. However, there are many more and the work of ScotRail in community and business adoption of stations over many years is outstanding, with excellent examples in both rural and inner city areas of Glasgow.

Another potentially fruitful area for CRPs to work with station groups is developing station travel plans and accessibility audits. Again, this is something that should be a ‘paid for’ project, probably via GBR in the future, but involving the relevant local authority. Community Rail Network has been proactive in supporting community-led travel planning ad has produced a helpful toolkit guide.

  1. The new railway architecture

The establishment of ‘Great British Railways’ (GBR) is a major development in UK rail; it will change how railways are managed dramatically. It will administer ‘passenger service contracts’ in which the actual train service delivery is provided by private companies to a clear contract. Unlike the current system, there will be little room for manoeuvre (or creativity) by the train operating companies. The clearly stated model for this is TfL/London Overground. Yet the TfL rail and contracting model doesn’t readily lend itself easily to CR and we don’t want to see mass centralisation or corporatisation of Community Rail. At the same time, the establishment of GBR will be an opportunity to bring CR into the heart of the railway, spreading the positive experience of some parts of Network Rail (e.g. in the North-West) to the country as a whole.

GBR will have wide powers. The DfT press release said “A new public body, Great British Railways (GBR), will integrate the railways, owning the infrastructure, collecting fare revenue, running and planning the network, and setting most fares and timetables.” It went on to say that “Local communities will work closely with GBR on designing services with local leaders given greater control over local ticketing, timetables and stations. The new model will encourage innovative bidders, such as community rail partnerships who want to bid for the GBR contract to operate their local branch lines.”

Many CRPs are already working with the industry on service planning issues and this needs to be embedded in the new structure; as for bidding for contracts to operate local branch lines, that’s an interesting challenge but one which CRPs as currently structured would, in most cases, be ill-equipped to respond to at the moment. But it does point to a more pro-active and operational role for CRPs. How do we get there? And is it realistic?

  1. GBR and ‘Community Rail’

If GBR is to be focused on passengers and communities – and their needs – shouldn’t some of what CRPs now do form part of GBR’s core programme, from Day One? There is scope for CRPs to have long-term agreements with GBR to develop specific services, e.g. in work with schools, mental health, refugees or ‘employability’ which help give long-term stability to CRPs.

We know there will be regional divisions of GBR and surely it makes sense for these to have strong roots in the communities they cover? The regional divisions of GBR should each have a ‘community unit’ that works closely with its community partners, with a small team at HQ level supported by a director with specific responsibility for ‘Community Integration’, working closely with Community Rail Network.

GBR should have regional boards which oversee the work of the organisation as a whole and include community representatives, including at least one CRP representative.

It’s important that the suggested dedicated community teams within GBR at the regional level are incentivised to ‘reach out’ and work with CRPs, CRN and a wide range of community organisations. Their role should be to help things happen, not act as a barrier.

Across the rail industry, community engagement should be treated as a skill to be learned just like any other, with training programmes (suitably accredited) that equip the managers of today and tomorrow with the knowledge and skill to be fully effective in this important field. GBR could work with Community Rail Network and the higher education sector to encourage ‘community engagement’ modules within Transport Studies courses – and ‘Community Development and Transport’ within community development courses (see below section ‘Professionalising Community Rail’).

  1. What should a ‘community rail partnership’ be about?

Williams – Shapps gives strong encouragement to CRPs as we’ve seen above. Section 13 is headed “Community rail partnerships will be empowered to strengthen rail’s social and economic impact”. But there is more in the white paper which may not mention ‘community rail’ specifically but opens up some exciting opportunities:

“New, locally-led innovation schemes will unlock smarter working and support growth. To achieve real change, there needs to be renewed emphasis on locally-led innovation and new ways of working. Those who work on the railways should be able to suggest and lead innovation in their workplaces or local network. Great British Railways will support this, through greater adoption of design sprints and competitions to identify and solve challenges at pace locally and regionally. Targeted partnerships between Great British Railways, its partners and other transport authorities, investors and start-ups will enable collaboration between the public and private sectors to push innovative solutions forward. Best practice will be shared across the sector.”

  • Great British Railways: The Williams-Shapps Plan for Rail, 2021 s. 49, p.83

Community Rail must rise to these challenges presented by Williams – Shapps. It’s a once in a generation opportunity and the CR movement must think big.

It isn’t about a single, unified approach but one in which ‘a hundreds flowers bloom’. Existing CRPs are enormously varied in terms of composition and activities, reflecting the very different geography of their areas of operation and the interests of the CRP partners. The ‘accreditation’ process has brought a baseline of good practice to CRPs and should continue in its present form but, arguably, be a bit more demanding and questioning. Re-accreditation should not be an almost automatic process. At the same time, there should be more sharing of good practice now we are at least partly out of lockdown.

The annual Community Rail Awards is a great occasion to meet up and hear about great projects, but the only other annual event is the DfT-sponsored Community Rail conference each March. Train operators are often obliged to organise their own conference from community rail groups in their area but the CRPs themselves, with support from the Community Rail Network, could do more to develop regional collaboration.

The activities which CRPs are involved in are hugely varied and, assuming a core emphasis on assuring local accountability, good governance and ensuring that all sections of the community are reached out to, should be able to reflect local needs and priorities.

Some act as grassroots-based advocates to promote rail travel, stressing rail’s contribution to the health and sustainability agendas. Others are involved in tourism promotion, while some bring considerable expertise to service planning issues. As highlighted above, some engage in pioneering work around mental health and work with schools. In a small number of cases, some are involved in ‘commercial’ activities, others sponsor local feeder bus services (e.g. SE Lancs CRP). There is a growing agenda to be part of the wider sustainability agenda which is great and this could be developed into particular strands of work (e.g. ‘greening your station’). The best contribution CRPs can make to a greener Britain is getting more people using trains that are already there, getting them to and from the station by sustainable means. At the same time, CRPs need to be part of wider local initiatives around sustainability, demonstrating that rail is part of the solution.

CRPs are not lobbying groups but many have developed expertise and trust in honing services to local needs. One senior CRP manager said “I’d say too that the best thing a CRP can do to help the community is to work to ensure the train service is as relevant and useful as possible to that community (and is well used and stays that way) and that where there is sufficient unmet local need, the service expands to meet it where possible.” That will involve the future CRP working closely with the GBR divisions but also ensuring that the ‘TOC of the future’, working to a Passenger Service Contract, is aware and engaged with its CRPs and uses their local knowledge and expertise, as argued above.

In some cases, partnerships can play a direct role in developing new technology that improves the viability of rural lines. Hi-Trans in the North of Scotland is leading the way with alternative sources to traditional diesel for some of the more remote lines which will never justify conventional electrification. Vivarail’s battery and hydrogen powered trains could help revolutionise some branch lines and a partnership with a CRP or rail-based social enterprise could be immensely effective.

Getting people back onto rail, post-Covid, whatever sort of train, is the key challenge we face. CR has a vital role to play in nurturing that rail market and act as a bridge between ‘communities’ and ‘the railway’ without being fringe lobbyists. It’s about making good things happen.

  1. Catalysts for change

If we see CRPs as bodies that enable things to happen – community development agencies along railway corridors, rather than being too narrowly focused on the railway in isolation – it helps structure how we see CR developing. It may sound heretical but you don’t need strong community interest before forming a CRP. It’s the job of the CRP to create it. There was no community demand for a community rail partnership on the Penistone Line back in 1993, but we went ahead and set up the Penistone Line Partnership and the community engagement came along after. On many more urban routes there is little existing community engagement, even through station friends groups. A CRP can be about making community engagement happen, starting off small, working with the existing community organisations in their area. There should be a role for the future GBR regional divisions to work with Community Rail Network and local agencies to identify potential new CRPs and assist with funding new developments, as argued elsewhere in this paper.

Funding is an issue for most CRPs. They are dependent on Government funding, which is inevitably short term. Few generate significant revenue from activities. In the past, it has been suggested that CRPs should escape from the cycle of government funding and look to generating revenue-earning activities. Perhaps now is the time to revisit that. However, some important and necessary activities will never be ‘commercial’ and never should be. I’d argue this is where GBR should step in.

The CRPs could at least in part function as GBR’s delivery arm for certain ‘deliverables’. For example, if the regional divisions of GBR wanted to develop work with primary schools, rather than try to build up the expertise themselves, they should buy the actual deliverable from one or more CRP in their division, who already have the expertise. Potentially individual CRPs could develop strengths in certain areas e.g. education, mental health, arts and other fields, alongside more general community engagement work.

  1. InterCity Community Rail

CR needs to cover more of the rail network. It’s moved on since the days when it was mainly about rural branch lines. As the ‘industry source’ commented, it needs to be (and already is) working in gritty urban areas. It’s also active on Inter-City routes and could do more. All the TOCs providing InterCity services have incentives in their contracts to support community rail and this is an exciting growth area. Open access Grand Central, once described by its late MD Tom Clift as ‘a long distance community railway’ has a great record of community engagement. On routes like the West Coast Main Line there are stations like Oxenholme, Wigan North Western, Preston and Penrith with a strong community ‘feel’ and highly committed staff who like working with the community, supported by Avanti West Coast. Train operators such as Cross Country (which has no stations to manage but supports a range of CR projects), LNER, Great Western and East Midlands are all proactive on Community Rail projects.

Larger stations on main line routes could develop as community hubs, using vacant space for community shops, art galleries and more. There’s too much an emphasis on the ‘corporate’ chains providing cafe facilities and not enough encouragement to good quality, locally-based cafes at larger stations.

All rail franchises or contracts have support for Community Rail embedded within them, thanks to the support of DfT, and the devolved administrations for Wales and Scotland. In the new GBR settlement that must not only continue, but expand.

That means in many places new CRPs being formed, with new money available for them to develop. As things stand it is difficult, to put it mildly, to set up a new CRP even if it has strong support – because the current CRP budget is allocated to existing partnerships. That creates an impossible situation where potentially, existing CRPs are penalised if new CRPs are established. There must be dedicated funds for new CRPs – a ‘Community Rail New Growth Fund’ or the like, quite separate from existing CRPs. Funding would be conditional on meeting clear criteria, based on the existing accreditation process.

  1. Maximising Social Value

The importance of the strongly social elements e.g. work on mental health, hate crime, work with schools, refugees and more, needs greater recognition and support. This work should be sponsored by the regional divisions of GBR and delivered by the CRPs and local community partners.

This ‘social’ programme e.g. work with schools and mental health, work with NEETs etc. while sponsored and paid for by GBR, should be supported by the relevant public sector body e.g. LEA, NHS, local council and delivered, on a clear contractual basis, by the community rail partnership, or a consortium of them, possibly in conjunction with an external third sector partner or partners. SE Lancs CRP’s work with refugees is being developed in partnership with the local City of Sanctuary, for example. Engaging in this sort of work would be impossible without close involvement of the relevant organisations.

It’s clear that ‘Social Value’ is becoming increasingly important in Government policy, in all areas, not just transport. One experienced CRP chair told me “The future train operating company contracts will be looking for a strong pay back to the Treasury for the financial support given and an important part of this will be the monetary value of the social aspects of activity by both the TOC and Community Rail. The earlier  exercises in valuing Community Rail will need to be much more sophisticated to record , quantify and therefore demonstrate that this is not just a ‘good thing’ but of real value to the Exchequer, the economy and to the population. Having this as a monetary value will be an essential plank for the future survival and development of Community Rail.”

Some community activists will object to putting a cash value on their activity. But the world has moved on from the 1990s when we did stuff because we knew it was right. If Community Rail is to retain the support of Government it will need to demonstrate very clearly the benefits it brings, rather than just assuming that “it’s bloody obvious”. It might be to us, it won’t be to the Treasury.

A lot can be learnt from engaging and being a part of the wider ‘third sector’ which is highly developed in the UK with a huge resource of knowledge and expertise in lots of areas relevant to community rail. Some CRPs and station partnerships are active members of their local ‘CVS’ (Council for Voluntary Service, or similar co-ordinating body for the local third sector) but a lot aren’t. They should be. It would help CRPs develop their local knowledge, build awareness of key policy issues and develop contacts. For the ‘third sector’ it would give them a way in to transport issues which are often seen as important but difficult to engage with.

  1. Developing ‘Community Rail Enterprises’

Community Rail should be enabled, where it wants to and where there’s the potential, to become more entrepreneurial, developing activities that bring in revenue – ranging from running bike hire, cafes and bars, tourist promotions, bus services, educational services, some local stations and even (cf Williams-Shapps) local rail services, in time. There’s no shortage of examples already, highlighted in CRN’s The Socially Enterprising Railway

Developing long-term income streams from revenue-generating activities (which add value to the railway and enhance passenger experience) or from specific deliverables that are paid for by a commissioning body, is a sensible route to take, and Community Rail Network has been encouraging this through training and advice.

Some CRPs are already structured as social enterprises, often as ‘community interest companies’ or charitable incorporated organisations. They could do much more. Within existing CRPs, there are a number of activities that could be developed as standalone businesses, if the right investment was made. This isn’t the sort of thing that GBR could or should do, but it ought to be supportive and helpful.

Some CRPs already get involved in managing property (in partnership with TOCs and Network Rail), undertake business activities such as consultancy, training, etc. Part of the problem is that they’re stretched too far with grossly insufficient resources.

I’m suggesting that more CRPs develop into social enterprises – businesses, with social objectives. Let’s call them ‘Community Rail Enterprises’ (CREs). Alternatively, CRPs could act as an enabler for such bodies, doing the initial development work then floating the social enterprise off to be self-sustaining but keeping close links with the CRP.

The CRP’s role would be to identify and develop rail-based commercial activities which bring tangible benefits to local communities, as well as supporting the railway. While the Williams-Shapps suggestion of CRPs bidding for contracts for their local lines smacks me as naive, there could be scope for CRPs – or enterprises which they help create – teaming up with larger businesses which may already have TOC status, to operate local services and possibly take on some peripheral (non-safety-critical) services which really enhance the rail offer.

An obvious ‘quick win’ is tourism, with a CRP working with an operator to provide additional services such as ‘The Staycation Express’ on the Settle-Carlisle and Vintage Trains (a community benefit society) on The Shakespeare Line. The Settle-Carlisle Railway Development Co. is a good example of the sort of enterprise I’m talking about. A potentially attractive area is developing feeder bus services. The example of Dalesbus, where a CIC identifies a network of bus routes which help promote sustainable tourism and contract services to local bus operators, is interesting. It avoids the high overheads of running the service directly and leaves the company free to promote the service and work with local businesses.

Most successful businesses, social or not, usually start off small but need some capital. If the Government wants to see CR develop and take on the sort of things that Williams-Shapps suggests, it needs up-front investment.

My suggestion is for three or four pilot schemes  across the country where there is some investment (let’s not call it funding) into creating or developing a ‘community enterprise’. This should cover a range of things including:

  • Appropriate level of staffing
  • Getting a suitable form of governance and board members – CIC model
  • Business partners/investors
  • Writing a business plan
  • Some contribution towards implementation of projects

We should be looking at three or four year horizons. Some will fail, which is OK. Others will bloom. Getting CRPs out of the treadmill of short-term funding and conflicting demands and expectations is necessary and timely. It could be the next ‘great leap forward’ for Community Rail.

Given the Secretary of State’s enthusiasm for competitions (e.g. location of GBR HQ) why not a Government-sponsored competition for ‘The Community Rail Enterprise Challenge’ with substantial funds for three or four pilot projects around England.

The Community Rail Network (CRN) could build on its very useful work on social enterprise with more business advice and support.

  1. Back to the land

Community Rail has hardly tapped the huge potential of doing more with surplus railway land. The railway is a massive land owner; the 4th or 5th biggest in the country. We must make a greater contribution to improving the environment, its habitat for all species and to biodiversity. Europe and Britain have lost nearly 30% of its bee population. As one industry leader said “If the bees all die, we die. It’s as simple as that. We have massive tracts of land that barely see human feet on them. Why aren’t we seeding and flowering these tracts to attract bees and butterflies. Who knows, regional or local brands of railway honey?”

SE Lancashire CRP is already developing a ‘Railway BeeHives’ project at Wigan. Network Rail has made important steps on biodiversity, and the Community Rail movement is developing a range of outstanding local projects. Greater Anglia is working with Norfolk Wildlife Trusts to promote biodiversity schemes through their station adoption programme.

Can we do more useful things with the railway’s land assets? Most railway land is in Network Rail hands so presumably will transfer to GBR; anyone who has tried dealing with the industry on land issues will know how difficult it is. The issue needs addressing, possibly by identifying surplus land which should for various reasons remain in railway ownership but which could be developed as wildlife havens, or – where public access is possible – as ‘railway parks’ or community allotments. One senior figure in local government said “I think there’s massive potential in using the vast amount of ‘nowt nor summat’ railway land holdings for gardens and parks. The big railway has finally realised it needs a sustainability strategy so I would have thought it would be very receptive. There’s also interplay with wider biodiversity / climate resilience aims of the big railway.”

This could best be done through a strategic lead by Network Rail/GBR with suitable parcels of land placed in a land bank for community use, leased to a community organisation (which could be local, regional or even national). Could there be scope for some land to be transferred to community land trusts to develop affordable housing, or community growing areas?

The example of the ‘Incredible Edible’ movement which started in Todmorden and features herb gardens on the station platforms, is really exciting. Encouragement should be given to use railway land, whether at stations or elsewhere, as space to grow stuff which can then be consumed locally. Bolton station’s ‘Platform Planters’ produced vegetables that were donated to a local co-operative cafe. Why not have station shops and cafes that sell produce that’s partly grown on the station itself?

  1. Arts-led rail regeneration

Rail has a pretty good record in ‘public art’. There are some great examples of art work at stations such as, as well as art galleries at stations including Aberdour, Kinghorn, Bolton, Pollokshaws West, Wigan (both stations), Nuneaton and many more. There are lots of reasons for encouraging public art at stations and along the railway corridor. The obvious benefit is that it makes stations nicer places to be. They are more welcoming, people-friendly and that in turn helps reduce anti-social behaviour. If people find stations more welcoming and less threatening, it stands to reason that they are more likely to use them.

The actual process of creating art at stations in itself is important. If done well, community rail art can involve hard-to-reach groups, children in inner-urban schools with limited horizons, and people who are social excluded. Lots of railway employees are talented artists, in many different media. We need to involve them much, much more. The exhibition of Railway Workers’ Art at the Platform Gallery on Bolton station was a good start, there’s scope for a lot more. Encouraging railway staff ticks many of the industry boxes about supporting employees and staff satisfaction.

It needs doing well. Just throwing up a few pictures or a subway mural is fine but an arts-based approach needs to address the whole station environment rather than just being an add-on. We need to make our stations exciting and interesting places which showcase local talent. Take a look at the subway mural at Wigan North Western if you want a good example of how art can transform a rather dull 1970s station. But we’ve only just started!

There’s a lot of good work already happening. It would be good for artists and community rail groups involved in art work to link up more, perhaps through a Community Rail Network ‘sub-network’ of Community Rail Art. Some great examples are already showcased at the Community Rail Awards, with two categories directly arts-related and others which are in part.

  1. Away from the ‘big is best’ mentality in procurement

Why should retail at larger stations be totally dominated by the big chains which have little if any commitment to locally sourced food and whose staff have no say in how the business is run? Community rail partnerships could work with the rail industry to establish retail facilities on stations – small, medium and large – which are exemplars of what the ‘circular economy’ looks like. Grown at or near the station, cooked on the premises and sold to rail passengers and local people who use the station as a destination in itself, with attractive station cafes which could also double as local art galleries and bookshops.

The same goes for locally-brewed beer, with ‘artisan’ breweries springing up at stations offering good quality beer in a pleasant environment. The record of success here, particularly at larger stations, is better than with coffee shops and other retail. As argued above, there is scope for much greater diversity in provision of catering at larger stations. How many large stations do you see a local social enterprise providing good quality snacks and coffee? Hardly any – they tend to be allowed to set up shop at stations where there’s no ‘commercial’ interest from the corporate giants. One of the biggest challenges for community rail is to get the industry procurement managers to take community business seriously instead of seeing them as irrelevant and unprofessional. Too often procurement managers take the easy route and contract with a large chain rather than seeking out good quality local businesses that may offer a better service at similar costs.

One aspect of this is cost. When I’ve mentioned social enterprises running cafes at busy stations the response from some TOCs has been cautious, assuming the potential tenant would want a ‘peppercorn’ rent. It doesn’t have to be so. Well-established social enterprises in many towns and cities pay full commercial rents and make money. If there is commercial potential at a busy station, why not offer it to a social enterprise that has a good record for quality and service, on a commercial basis? Or, in cases where the market potential is marginal, agree a tapered rent starting off low and growing as – and if – the business grows. This is what Northern did, with success, at Skipton with the Settle-Carlisle Development Company’s cafe, taking over from a failed private business. That required an ‘open book’ approach and a relationship of trust with the train operator.

That model could work with other TOCs or Network Rail – or GBR in the future – which could be brokered by the CRP. And let’s remember, at some smaller stations talk of a ‘commercial’ rent should be treated with care. A ‘commercial rent’ at some stations could be in hundreds, or less. It’s far better to have an appropriate business trading at a station than a boarded up building that will never be let because the rent expected is unrealistic and doesn’t reflect local market rents.

  1. Building awareness in the industry

Thirty years on from the establishment of the first CRP (actually in Devon and Cornwall), the lack of awareness of what ‘Community Rail’ is amongst some in the rail industry continues to surprise me. It’s far too important to be left just to a ‘stakeholder manager’ or similar and should be embedded across the entire industry. So, how?

The future contracts for train operators need to incorporate some clear requirements for the operator (and this should also apply to GBR and former Network Rail staff) to develop awareness of Community Rail at all levels. This should include regular briefings to management teams but also publicity about CR activities in staff publications and social media. CRP officers should be invited to occasional staff briefings about activities they are involved in.

Every ‘new starter’ should have a half-day session on ‘Community Rail – what it means to you’ as part of their induction, which could include inviting a CRP officer to take part in the session. During my time at Grand Central (not, of course, a franchised TOC), part of my job was to spend a day with ‘new starters’ – mostly Bradford-based staff for the new London service. Drives, train managers and customer service assistants. Many of them became enthusiasts for community rail and fed in positive ideas.

In turn, rail managers and front-line staff should be encouraged to attend some CRP meetings and offer insights into their work; this could also include depot visits and other activities which help cement relationships between CR and the industry.

  1. Professionalising ‘Community Rail’

It would be interesting to know how many people are employed in ‘community rail’ across the country, including CRPs and rail employees. Given there are over 70 CRPs and about 20 train operators, a conservative estimate would be 100 full-time equivalent jobs.

The professional backgrounds of these people will be enormously varied, with some coming from community development roles, marketing, or railway operating backgrounds. What they will all have in common is a lack of any formal qualifications for doing ‘community rail’. If you come into the job from a railway operations or engineering background, you probably won’t know a lot about community development. If you’re a former community worker, the intricacies of the railway industry will be beyond you.

By and large, people ‘get by’. Yet the industry needs to recognise that being a ‘community manager’ requires real skills, every bit as demanding as being a timetable planner, signalling engineer or train crew manager.

It’s about time we professionalised Community Rail. Not by excluding talented people either in the industry or in outside ‘community-related’ jobs, but offering opportunities to develop skills which better equip them to do community-related jobs, either as CRP or rail industry employees. This could be done through a mix of on and off the job training, working with a number of higher education bodies in different parts of the country, with a shared core curriculum which includes:

  • What the railway industry does, its history, and how it is structured
  • How rail is part of the wider sustainability challenge
  • The communities served by rail and their diverse needs
  • Methods of community engagement
  • Community Rail overview – including funding and governance
  • Media relations

This should be suitably accredited. At school-leaving level, each rail business – and CRP – should have an apprenticeship scheme. Some TOCs, such as Northern, already have a good record here, not only offering apprentices the opportunity to engage with CRPs but also an ‘Early Careers Programme’ which has a community dimension. At a higher level, there should be encouragement to post-graduate qualifications up to and including PhD level on important aspects of Community Rail. There are opportunities to include ‘Community Rail’ within some degree courses, particularly but not exclusively in Transport Studies.

  1. Rail re-openings

Community rail has traditionally fought shy of getting involved in rail re-openings, for good reason. Back in the late 1990s and early 2000s the practical possibility of re-opening a local railway, at least in England, was very small. Getting involved in complex and probably pointless campaigns would have sapped strength and resources which was better spent in supporting and developing what was already there, and had survived Beeching.

That caution need not apply in the 2020s, now there is broad support for re-openings with Government encouragement. Community rail partnerships are well placed to support and perhaps in certain cases lead on re-openings, particularly new stations along routes they cover. CRPs could act as a stimulus for more ambitious line re-openings, without being the lead body – which might be best done through a purpose-made organisation involving local authorities, the CRP and other agencies.

SENRUG – The South-east Northumberland Rail Users Group – has aspirations to become a CRP and promote both existing services and support the re-opening of ’The Northumberland Line’ from Newcastle to Ashington and to Morpeth.

  1. Where next?

Community Rail has a great future. It has emerged from the worst of the Covid-19 period intact but, lack everyone, feeling bruised. Jools Townsend, Chief Executive of the Community Rail Network said “I think we can hold our heads very high about the way the movement has come through a very difficult year and a half, supporting communities and their resilience in a range of ways, responding to local needs. I also would highlight the ways that community rail has come together and pushed forward with promotional and engagement activities as we have emerged from pandemic restrictions – including a strong focus on supporting leisure travel opportunities and positioning rail travel as a big part of the solution to the climate emergency. A lot of what we and our members have done in recent months has been new and different, responding to what’s going on out there at a local and global level.”

Community Rail is embedded in many communities and there is strong support for it within the rail industry and Government – and, as this paper has argued perhaps to excess, a sense that it could do much more if it had the right tools. It must relentlessly trumpet its successes and ensure that it isn’t just preaching to the converted. Why not a Treasury day out to visit some community rail lines and demonstrate at first-hand what has been achieved?

A good friend in a train company made a key point in response to an earlier draft of this paper: “We have to make sure we achieve the twin aims of protecting all that’s best about Community Rail, whilst also evolving into new but relevant added value areas. The the clue is in the title – community rail. If it doesn’t involve both those elements, then it’s probably not the right thing for Community Rail to be doing, could be a dilution of resources and may be duplicating what others do. We also need to be pragmatic and realistic – whilst still being ambitious and aspirational – about the resources that might get allocated to Community Rail. We might not always be lucky enough to have the passionate advocates we have today at the heart of decision-making!”

This paper represents a small contribution to the process of growing Community Rail – a healthy and vibrant movement which began with no resources and a lot of scepticism, in the kitchen of a terraced house in Huddersfield thirty years ago. Thanks to all who have contributed to its creation.

Key recommendations:

  1. Great British Railways should have ‘Community Rail’ in its DNA, with a ‘Community Unit’ at HQ level and dedicated resource in each of the regional divisions
  2. Train operators should be incentivised to support community rail and station adoption groups through the Passenger Service Contracts. They should continue to act as channels for funding CRPs but also be encouraged to go beyond the ‘core’ funding proposition for schemes with identified benefits
  3. The ‘four pillars’ in the Government’s Community Rail Development Strategy should be reviewed to ensure that sustainability is at the heart of the strategy. A fifth pillar, ‘to increase passenger numbers and contribute to reducing costs’ should be added
  4. Community rail partnerships should be encouraged to pull in wider sources of funding, both from other funders possibly external to rail but also from generating their own income streams in relevant areas which enhance the passenger experience
  5. There should be a new, dedicated ‘Community Rail Growth Fund’ administered by Community Rail Network on behalf of GBR to support new community rail partnerships where there is proven support locally
  6. Railway employers should be incentivised (and in some cases required) to ensure that Community Rail features in all aspects of the business, with all staff given the opportunity to be fully engaged, from induction throughout their railway careers
  7. The rail unions should be engaged much more in community rail activities, particularly in areas of mutual concern e.g. diversity and inclusion, combating hate crime, trespass and vandalism.
  8. Local government and combined authorities should be more engaged with Community Rail, recognising the contribution that CRPs in particular can make to a wider sustainability agenda.
  9. There should be a clear programme of training and development for all staff involved, or potentially involved, in community rail – from apprenticeships through to accredited further and higher education courses and PhD levels.
  10. There must be a sea-change in thinking amongst procurement managers to ensure that SMEs and social enterprises get the opportunity to bid for commercial contracts, as well ‘non-commercial’ station lets and right along the supply chain
  11. Consideration should be given to unused railway land being identified for community use, with the creation of allotments, ‘pocket parks’ or other facilities.
  12. Stations – small, medium and large – should be seen as community hubs which promote the communities they serve, offering locally-made produce, artwork and meeting space and information on local employment opportunities.
  13. There should be a ‘Community Rail Arts Network’ supported by Community Rail Network which shares best practice amongst artists, CRPs and station groups.

A ‘Community Rail Enterprise Challenge’ should be launched and managed by DfT (or GBR in the future) with substantial funding for innovative ‘commercial’ schemes which help to grow rail patronage and improve the passenger experience