The Heart of Wessex Rail Partnership is a twenty year old joint venture between seven local authorities and the train operator, currently Great Western Railway (formerly First Great Western). The core objective of the partnership is to increase awareness and use of the Bristol to Weymouth services, in turn contributing to economic growth, carbon reduction and other key priorities for local authority partners. In addition to marketing the line and the destinations it serves, the partnership has gradually transformed since 2003 into a wider community venture, with participation from local groups, organisations and businesses, and most importantly a growing army of volunteers who generously give over 13,000 hours of their personal time each year to enhancing stations, promoting the railway in their local communities, improving links to stations and designing and leading guided walks. Since 2003 use of the line has trebled, without any increase to the number of train services.
Councils, communities and volunteers work closely with Great Western Railway to add value to the line, its stations and its local economies. Amongst the many different things we do, joint Task Forces of volunteers from Bristol down to Weymouth come together with railway colleagues to tackle bigger projects at particular stations, such as clearing the banks of vegetation beside the car park at Trowbridge
Many of the stations along the line have gardens created by Station Friends’ groups. At Yeovil Pen Mill the front of the station is cared for by students from Lufton College who help with litter picking and learn about planting and gardening including sowing Meadow Mix seeds to attract bees and growing flowers from bulbs in their own special train planter.
Teamwork at Westbury
In 2014 a team of volunteers and Great Western Railway friends worked with Network Rail to clear the overgrown frontage at Westbury Station. Since then, the Friends of Westbury Station have adopted the area and developed beautiful gardens and a special welcome to customers. They also designed special planters for the station platforms which they regularly replant with new displays of floral colour.
Linking stations to communities
The partnership has funded special poster casings at several stations for local information, including this free standing board at Castle Cary Station. This was installed for the community of Ansford and Castle Cary as part of their project to encourage more visitors to use the beautiful walking route that they have way-marked from the station. The project also included additional signs to the walking route from the station.
Community Rail Working Party (CRWP)
The CRWP meets regularly with Great Western Railway, with short & long term projects and community aspirations collected on “The Matrix”, reloaded (!) several times a year. This approach to working as one team and finding solutions to problems together has been of interest to other groups, and the magnificent gardens at Bradford on Avon are a popular venue to gather in when visitors come to learn more about our work
The one mile footway between Thornford Village and its station was opened in June 2011 initiated and championed by the partnership, and funded by Dorset County Council, whose expert teams designed and delivered it. The footway allows villagers to reach the station safely, and in June 2015 new seating was installed to allow walkers to relax along the route to enjoy the lovely views.
The Friends of Upwey first began work with South West Trains and the British Transport Police to tackle vandalism and anti social behaviour. Today they also help to keep the station clean and have established lovely gardens, as well as improving information for customers. The Friends have dramatically reduced the incidence of vandalism, & created a station the whole community is proud of.
Our Very Own Train
In late 2011, First Great Western honoured us with a beautifully repainted train bearing our logo. It is still one of the smartest trains out on the network, and we get a frisson of pleasure every time we see it.
Photo by South West News Service (Train by Jon Godden!)
A Message from our Chairman
Eric Egar leads our partnership with a positive, sunny disposition through all weather!
Photo taken after a meeting at Hauser & Wirth in Bruton in 2014, with the Guest House and its piece by Martin Creed in the background.