Over seventy volunteers from stations along the railway line between Stratford upon Avon and Birmingham have been given a special thank you for their hard work. Vintage Trains of Tyseley invited the volunteers to join the inaugural Shakespeare Express, which ran from Birmingham Moor Street to Stratford and return, as a private charter with invited VIP's and the media on Thursday 29 July 2021.
Photograph by Jack Boskett
The station volunteers, known as adopters, form the ‘Friends of the Shakespeare Line (FoSL)’. Established in the pandemic, the adopters at the railway stations along the route have attracted the sponsorship of Earlswood Garden & Landscape Centre with some 70 garden planters installed earlier in the year, with planting taking place by the volunteers.
Fraser Pithie, Treasurer of the volunteer-led FoSL group and Angela Okey, Chair of Friends of Henley Station and Vice Chair of Henley-in-Arden and Beaudesert Joint Parish Council, addressed passengers on the platform at Henley-in-Arden as the Shakespeare Express special paused at the town's station. The train stopped for over twenty minutes to allow those on board to alight and see the work already done to improve Henley-in-Arden's station. With gardens and 14 planters, Henley's station has been transformed in less than a year.
Angela Okey said, "We have now turned our attention to fully restoring Henley's original GWR station building, and we expect to commence design work imminently once we can reach an agreement with Network Rail. Time is of the essence as we do not want to lose pledged funding for the work."
The train then carried on to Stratford upon Avon, where Michael Whitehouse, Chairman of Vintage Trains, addressed passengers on the platform about the Tyseley-based Steam Trust's vision. Mr Whitehouse said the line between Birmingham and Stratford was destined to become a premier steam route operating alongside and as part of scheduled network services operated by West Midlands Trains. He said this would be similar to the Jacobite steam services between Fort William and Mallaig in Scotland's West Highlands.
"A tremendous amount of work by adopters at each station has positively transformed the appearance and feel of the rail route. The adopters appreciate Vintage Trains kindness for the thanks they have provided by inviting them on the special trip. There is much more many adopters want to do at their stations, so the transformation of the line has only just started, and FoSL intends to support and fund them as much as possible." Fraser Pithie said.