"Liberating the talent, the energy and the goodwill of the railway volunteers is a joy to behold", says Lord Digby Jones of Birmingham. As Patron of the Friends of the Shakespeare Line, Lord Jones remarks are in the Foreword of the group's Annual Report which we are pleased to publish today and is now available on this website.
The twenty-page Annual Report sets out the scale and range of activities, from over 10,000 volunteer hours valued at £150,000, 70 garden planters installed along the railway route, endless varieties of planting, selected by the station volunteers to suit their specific stations. Mention is also made of an exciting scheme with the station adoption at Wythall that involves young people from Woodrush Academy led by the inspirational Head of Humanities who values this experience and learning opportunity for his students.
The 260th Birmingham Scouts volunteer at Spring Road station and have created an uplifting environment for the local community and passengers. The installation of water supply taps and rainwater butts, donated by Severn Trent, have helped lighten the work at many stations and the local regeneration principles of the group are brought to life by purchasing solely from locally based businesses.
FoSL is a standalone non-profit and independent group with over 80 volunteers signed up along the length of the Stratford upon Avon and Birmingham railway line. The Friends of the Shakespeare Line are led by a group of volunteer Trustees with diverse business and commercial experience who freely give their time and commitment to manage and support a larger team of volunteers who work across 18 railway stations between Birmingham and Stratford upon Avon.
Lord Jones adds, "This new community organisation is excitingly innovative; a lean, efficient, responsive, and above all, value for money model that concentrates on supporting volunteers by managing the bureaucracy and fund raising, enabling volunteers to get on with what they want to do and what they do best for the benefit of all."
Lord Jones goes onto comment on the 'Levelling Up and Environmental Agenda' and says; "The spectrum of economic diversity along the Shakespeare Line could not be broader. With so much effort directed by central and local government to 'levelling up' and also reducing carbon emissions, it is also pleasing to see how FoSL is active and working with local communities at both ends of the social deprivation index. It would be all too easy to leave behind those areas where the most work is needed. As a Birmingham-born lad myself, I find it particularly heartening to see the effort that's been put into successfully engaging and involving communities left behind for too long."
This is the first Community Station Partnership in the UK, a new community model for rail without organisational or employment costs, supported by West Midlands Railway and managed by volunteers for volunteers who also secure additional funding on behalf of the Partnership to undertake station improvement works. Lord Jones describes the model as "a ray of sunshine, that is a fabulous initiative".
The restoration of the Great Western Railway station building at Henley in Arden is singled out as a particular project for attention in the Report, with FoSL working closely with Network Rail and the Friends of Henley Station to develop restoration plans and raise funding for the works to restore the heritage building to its former glory.
Inner-city works are also underway in one of the region's most socially deprived areas of Birmingham, community arts installations have been welcomed at Small Heath and Sparkbrook station and the future is bright as volunteers, the city council and rail stakeholders work together on plans to landscape the redundant platforms, install stunning new artworks and develop aspirational plans to improve accessibility for all at the station.
The report also records heart-warming comments from the volunteers and an impressive array of endorsements from British Transport Police, Network Rail, West Midlands Railway and West Midlands Rail Executive.