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  • Friends of the Shakespeare Line

Pandemic to Platinum

How railways and communities in the West Midlands are delivering social value together...

It’s been fulfilling, joyful and indeed catharticthis is the published opinion of Fraser Pithie, the Chair of a recently formed Community Rail organisation in the West Midlands which has brought people from all walks of life together to connect with the railways and provide volunteer efforts to upgrade local stations along The Shakespeare Line.

The pinnacle of this 24 month journey is the 'people powered' enhancement of every station, in celebration of HM The Queen's Platinum Jubilee and Fraser made the comments upon seeing the elation and dedication of the hard-working volunteers who all made their own way to Earlswood Garden & Landscape Centre to collect pre-ordered thousands of red, white and blue plants that will adorn this well-known mainline railway between Birmingham and Stratford-upon-Avon.

The route will be a blaze of patriotic colour and celebration for the momentous national occasion and is also a perfect marker of the outstanding success of this new Partnership.

Fraser Pithie is the Chair of Friends of the Shakespeare Line (FoSL) which was formed at the beginning of Lockdown 1 and now has an energetic membership of over 90 volunteers who work with railway operators, Network Rail and private businesses.

The volunteers have created a new 'model' in the world of community rail, their guiding principle is 'People Power' and they not only work tirelessly at their own individual stations but are increasingly helping each other, developing strong community bonds, and delivering a model for co-operative enterprise in the world of railways.

Fraser explains how the innovative new group was formed: In the first lockdown of Covid 19, The Shakespeare Line Rail User Group, which had been established for over two decades, had a vision to reach out to individuals living nearby to the 21 railway stations on the line to communicate the idea for a people-led volunteer movement that could help with rail recovery and community regeneration. We were overwhelmed with the response and could not believe the enthusiasm with which people signed up to care for their local stations and support their own neighbourhoods.

The results of this people-powered partnership have exceeded all expectations, the first Annual Report logged tens of thousands of community hours, documented the public benefit from these efforts and outlined the positive impact for local economies all along the railway line from the volunteers coming forward to get involved to improve facilities, enhance stations and contribute towards the recovery of rail, encouraging new people to travel by train.

A highly successful public/private partnership has evolved from the energies of this volunteer army and the central plant and materials supplier is a key sponsor of the group, Earlswood Garden & Landscape Centre have been pivotal to the success of the group and this model for community sponsorship is an approach that’s attracting a great deal of interest from other local enterprises.

Fraser says: “Not only are we supporting station volunteers, but we are determined that the services we purchase should support the local economy. Along the route the impressive Platinum Jubilee banners and boards have been designed and supplied by a local creative agency and we have recommended their work and community-supportive ethos to many contacts."

Fay Easton who is Head of Stakeholder & Community for West Midlands Railway said

"The 23-mile route along the Shakespeare Line is trailblazing a powerful new model for community rail and as the industry moves towards the formation of 'Great British Railway' this powerful model for 'Community Station Partnerships' underpins a vision for true collaboration between passengers, communities and service providers."


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