"You are involved in a very noble cause", Lord Digby Jones of Birmingham told both the Friends of Henley-in-Arden Station and the Friends of the Shakespeare Line, a volunteer-led group that supports over 50 volunteers at some 18 stations along the railway route between Stratford upon Avon and Birmingham.
Image Caption: Lord Digby Jones of Birmingham, Patron of both Friends of the Shakespeare Line (FoSL) and Friends of Henley-in-Arden Station (FOHS) with Fraser Pithie, Treasurer of FoSL and Angela Okey Chair of FOHS and Vice Chair of Henley-in-Arden & Beaudesert Joint Parish Council.
As patron of both organisations, Lord Jones visited Henley-in-Arden station to see the work that has already been done by volunteers to improve the station's environment. Henley's station has been transformed with some 14 new planters and hundreds of hours of volunteering over the past year. Many passengers have commented on the improvement made by the local community.
However, this is only the first phase of Henley community's plans for its ex-GWR station and original boarded up GWR station building. Attention has now turned to the renovation and reuse of the station building. The Friends of Henley-in-Arden Station (FoHS) are currently in advanced discussions with Network Rail that it is hoped will see them take a lease on the station building. FoSH plan to restore the station building to its original GWR splendour while opening the building up for new uses to support and enhance the community and station.
It's the culmination of over two years of work by the local Rail Passenger Group, the Shakespeare Line Promotion Group, who spent some time encouraging the community at Henley-in-Arden through its Parish Council to adopt their station.
The Chair of FoHS is Angela Okey, who is also vice-chair of Henley & Beaudesert Joint Parish Council said “We are delighted to have Digby Jones as Patron to Friends of Henley Railway Station. His enthusiasm and support is very encouraging and we very much look forward to bringing this project to fruition."
Lord Jones also told the volunteers that he believed railways will become a dominant form of transport in the 21st century as a more carbon-neutral world with much fewer emissions develops.
The volunteer-led Friends of the Shakespeare Line that supports all the stations and their volunteers between Birmingham and Stratford is right behind FoHS.
Fraser Pithie, Treasurer of Friends of the Shakespeare Line said, "We are confident that the team from the community at Henley that makeup FoHS will deliver their vision. The renovation of the station building will make a tremendous difference and should, when completed, coincide with Henley-in-Arden's train service increasing to a 30-minute frequency. The impetus now is to get possession of the building from Network Rail to commence activities for surveying, design and construction and also secure a long term community lease. This will be another major improvement along the railway line that volunteers are working hard to develop and enhance."