Volunteers Week – Community Rail

  • Volunteers Week is an event recognising and celebrating volunteers, which takes place annually from 1-7 June
  • Thousands of volunteers contribute to Community Rail, a network of individuals and organisations who work together to get the most out of local railway lines and stations
  • We discuss how volunteers help to make Community Rail a success, and what they get out of their involvement

Around 8,500 people volunteer in community rail organisations across Britain each year.

Community Rail is a growing grassroots movement. It is made up of 61 Community Rail Partnerships (groups of people who work with the rail industry and local authorities to promote the line and improve stations, services and access), organisations based in local communities that work along railway lines or across regions, and more than 1,000 station-based voluntary groups.

All of them work to connect communities with their railways and help them to get the most from local lines and stations.

Volunteers are at the heart of Community Rail. Their work ranges from community hubs and gardening at stations, to promoting green tourism on community rail lines, and working with the rail industry towards a more accessible railway.

How volunteers support Community Rail

Research published in April 2019 by the Association of Community Rail Partnerships (ACoRP) estimates that there are around 8,500 volunteers in community rail organisations across Britain.

Collectively, they contribute 390,000 hours of their time each year, doing a variety of tasks to make stations more pleasant places to wait for a train (see more in the Value of Community Rail report).

Motivation for getting involved goes beyond just wanting to make their local station more pleasant. Many participating in the research said that by promoting the railway as an environmentally friendly alternative to car use, they felt they were delivering value to society.

Others talked about the value of reducing isolation and building friendships. One volunteer in Sussex said: “It was a bit of an unloved station when we started in 2011. We realised we were making a difference, and that people cared a lot about the station.

“The group has been a reason for, or a basis for, very strong friendships. Even when there is not much to do, we continue to meet every week.”

A report from January 2019 by NCVO, Time Well Spent, explored the views of 10,000 volunteers. It found that 90% of respondents felt they made a difference by volunteering, with 89% meeting new people as a result of their activities. Meanwhile, 68% agreed that volunteering helped them feel less isolated.

Recognising outstanding contributions

Neil Williams is founder member of Friends of Glossop Station in Derbyshire, and has been chair for the past seven years. He was named as Outstanding Volunteer of the Year at the ACoRP awards in 2018.

As well as leading the group, he participates in practical activities and promotes Community Rail in the local and wider community. Neil’s activities as a Community Rail volunteer are broad and varied.

  • Neil often welcomes groups and individuals to Glossop, giving a guided tour of the station and town
  • He is a stickler for accurate and timely detail, and personally checks and refreshes publicity material in and around Glossop station, as well as via the website, blog and newsletter
  • He ensures the station appears attractive and well-cared for. As part of the gardening team, he works on the embankment between April and October, and tends to tubs and hanging baskets on the platform
  • He is an active member of the cleaning team who clean and tidy the station every Sunday, and pick up litter
  • Neil’s involvement with local projects includes an event commemorating the Lowestoft evacuees who were billeted in Glossop in June 1940, and a teddy bears’ picnic.

One team member said: “Neil is always the first to arrive and last to leave when all is cleared away. He will turn his hand to any task.”

Why Neil volunteers

Neil said: “You try to make your local station as welcoming a place as possible. You’ve got a lot of people coming through for whom it’s their first time here, and you want it to be a welcoming gateway to the town. Glossop is a strong community, and you want to say, ‘we care about this town, this is our station, and we want to give you a warm welcome and provide information.’

“People are proud of what we are doing, and the feedback is fantastic. Because we do a lot of our work unseen, at 6am on a Sunday, people don’t often see us at the station. But I’m always astonished at what people notice and are aware of. And so when people ask why we do what we do, I say because it makes the station more of an asset.

“It’s very motivating, and it’s a reward. You can see tangible results from the hours you put in.”

With thanks to ACoRP, who shared Neil’s story and their research with us for this post.