West Midlands Railway welcomes new community rail strategy

Train company recognises the importance of tackling loneliness.

West Midlands Railways has welcomed the government’s new community rail strategy and has recognised the importance of tackling loneliness for some of the most vulnerable in society.

The report, which was published last week, recognises the impact of community station groups in bringing people together.

Community rail covers a range of activities around railway stations by local groups. This includes initiatives such as maintaining station gardens, producing art installations and running community engagement events with support of train operators.

These activities were praised for providing a community voice, promoting accessible travel, bringing communities together and enabling social and economic development. Community rail has also been recognised as an effective way to help tackle loneliness.

Speaking at the launch of a cross-Government strategy on tackling loneliness in October, Prime Minister Theresa May called loneliness “one of the greatest public health challenges of our time”. The report also highlighted that around 200,000 older people have not had a conversation with a friend or relative in more than a month.

West Midlands Railway is looking to double the number of station adopters at it’s stations and is committed to working closely with local communities over the coming years.

The train operator is also developing a new scheme called Ask-Annie, in partnership with Viaqqio, to provide personalised travel advice and planning to concessionary pass holders over the age of 55.

Fay Easton, head of stakeholder and community engagement at West Midlands Railway, said: “We have identified that loneliness can have a crippling impact on people’s lives and we are committed to playing our part in improving accessibility to our network. It is a positive step that the role of community rail has been recognised nationally and we want to build on this. We have been supporting the Ask-Annie project as a part of this commitment and would urge anyone who may be interested in the service to join our trial volunteers.”

Ask-Annie is currently in it’s trial stages, and continues to look for volunteers to use the new service and give feedback on their experience.

Jackie, a current participant in the Ask-Annie trial, said: “”Having reached a ‘certain age’, I reluctantly began planning to give up my car, before someone or something took the decision for me. This brought up some major worries for me. Ask-Annie has ‘nudged’ me into trying public transport and I have discovered some advantages as it is cheaper, not necessarily slower, can be more relaxing and there is no need to park!”

Steve Cassidy, director at Viaqqio, said: “We are thrilled to be in the West Midlands and offering this new service for older people. By developing the Ask-Annie service with more and more users, we aim to change the face of travel for concessionary pass holders. By improving awareness of what transport exists, providing a way of obtaining support from other travellers as well as operators, and helping people get the best deals and access to new and existing services, members of Ask-Annie will find travel easier. That is our goal!”

The new community rail strategy has also been enthusiastically welcomed by community rail’s umbrella body, the Association of Community Rail Partnerships.

Paul Webster, operations manager at ACoRP, said: “There are now 61 community rail partnerships nationwide, plus an estimated 1,300 station ‘friends’ groups, which coordinate community gardening and other volunteering activities at stations. Their activities are wide-ranging, but all aim to help communities get the most from their railways, and bring stations back into the heart of communities. New groups and projects are developing all the time, and we support West Midlands Railway in their aim to double the number of station adopters at their stations.”