DfT Work Party at Bedford Image supplied by Marston Vale Community Rail Partnership

Members of a grassroots rail movement, which includes the Marston Vale Community Rail Partnership, have continued to strive for communities in the Midlands and East of England towards a greener transport future, despite the pandemic.

Figures from Community Rail Network’s Community Rail in the Midlands and East briefing, out today (24 March 2021) sponsored by Rail Delivery Group, highlight that more than 8,000 volunteers give 37,000 hours annually to improve social inclusion and wellbeing, promote sustainable and healthy travel, and support economic development and tourism in their local area, valued at £3.1 million.

Working with the region’s 13 community rail partnerships and 160 station groups, they engage local people with their railways and stations, working with train operators, local authorities, and other partners.

Activities include: volunteering, community gardening and biodiversity projects at stations; community arts and heritage projects; work with rail industry partners towards improvements and integration, such as shelters, signage, pedestrian and cyclist access; and events, workshops and activities to promote sustainable travel, bring people together, and celebrate the local community.

Community Rail is now looking forward to playing a pivotal role in building back better from COVID-19, and helping our railways to be a vital component of a greener, more inclusive way forward as part of a ‘green recovery’.

In Bedfordshire, the Marston Vale CRP brings together the local community, local authorities, parish councils, businesses, visitor attractions and the railway industry to promote and develop the Marston Vale Line.

The Partnership manages the award-winning Ridgmont Station Heritage Centre and has over 70 volunteers working to brighten up stations, and assist with administration & promotion.

Recent projects include the launch of a Symbol Spot Trail, the first of its kind in the country. A free booklet with a map and stickers guides families along the Line, with facts, figures and lots for children aged 5 and over to see and look for. The aim is to spot a host of symbols along the Line, including letters, numbers, shapes, map symbols, signs and rail safety items.

Stephen Sleight, Marston Vale Community Rail Partnership, said,

“We are privileged to have a large team of dedicated volunteers, who really go the extra mile. We are always looking for more people who would like to join one of our Stations Friends Groups, help start a new group or volunteer in another way. It’s a great time to get involved as we plan for the 175th Anniversary of the Line later this year!”

Commenting on the importance of the community rail movement in the Midlands and East of England, Jools Townsend, chief executive of Community Rail Network, said:

“Community rail works to make our railways community-minded and inclusive, and promotes sustainable travel by rail, bringing people together and bolstering local pride and wellbeing.

“In the Midlands and Anglia, community rail partnerships and groups have adapted and responded, supporting communities through the pandemic, maintaining positivity, and advising rail partners on shifting local needs.

“As we start to rebuild from Covid-19, within the community rail movement, and across our railways, we will be redoubling efforts, to create confidence and togetherness, and play our part in enabling more people to get around by socially and environmentally responsible means.

“Community rail is all about communities and connectedness, and people working together locally to make things better for each other and our shared future – that couldn’t be more important right now.”

For more information on Marston Vale CRP, visit www.marstonvalecommunityrail.org.uk, or please contact Stephen Sleight, Marston Vale Community Rail Partnership Officer on 01234 832645, e-mail stephens@bedsrcc.org.uk.

For more information on community rail, visit communityrail.org.uk.