Chair’s Annual Report September 2019

Chair’s Annual Report September 4th 2019Friends of the Stockton & Darlington Railway

Welcome to everyone who has taken the time to attend our AGM.  I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has contributed to the work and development of the Friends over the past year, not least of all the trustees.  I would like to include elected members and officers from the local authorities and other organisations, such as Historic England and TVCA, who have worked with us over the past year as a key aspect of our work involves partnership working, and this has been going from strength to strength.  

I would also like to welcome two new trustees.  Ian Ross had kindly taken on the role of Treasurer and Martin Peagam (of SIG) has recently agreed to join the Board of Trustees.  Jonathan Ratcliffe has worked tirelessly to get our new website off the ground and has decided to step down as a trustee – he has our sincere thanks for all his work on the website and also with Jane Hackworth-Young in taking our research forward, and I know he intends to carry on with this into the future.  Thanks to them both for their work some of which is relevant to our links with the USA.

On the 27th September it will be the 194th anniversary of the Stockton & Darlington Railway and this year our celebration event will be taking place at Locomotion, the Shildon branch of the National Railway Museum.  I would like to thank on our behalf Durham County Council who have given considerable support to the event on the Friday evening, which is intended to raise the profile of the Stockton & Darlington Railway project even further in the lead up to 2025.  I would also like to thank Locomotion for hosting the event and their support in getting the event organised.  We will also be contributing to the Locomotion anniversary event on the Sunday, providing at least one off-site walk.

As indicated in the minutes of the AGM held last year, we intended to work in close co-operation with organisations such as the Bishop Auckland HAZ, the two Great Places Schemes and the TVCA and all of this has happened.  We are supporting the Bishop Auckland HAZ Heritage Week with a walk on Cockfield Fell (Haggerleases branch line) and a talk on the S&DR project at the Four Clocks centre in Bishop Auckland, later on this month.

Our programme to publicise the project through a range of talks has proceeded during the year, with talks being given to a range of organisations, including parish councils, several local history groups, men’s crees and community groups.  The chair sits on the local management group of the Northern Heartlands Great Places Scheme and both the chair and vice-chair attend the equivalent organisation for the Darlington element of the Tees Valley Great Places Scheme.  We are also now working increasingly closely with Brightwater and are also pleased to be part of the Bishop Line Community Rail Partnership.

We have also ‘spread the word’ through a number of walks organised by Jane Hackworth-Young and John Raw, and the organisers of our new affiliated group, SIG, which has been set up in the Stockton area and is forging ahead at a pace of knots.  I would also like to complement both SIG and BIG (the Brusselton Incline Group) on their practical conservation work with landscape improvements at St John’s Crossing and new steps at Bruseelton Lane.  The chair now takes part in a community programme on Aycliffe Radio – next on 22nd September – and we were invited to help with a programme for a series on railway architecture to be broadcast next January on Yesterday.  This covered Shildon (including the Railway Institute which is under threat), Darlington (Skerne Bridge) and the first planned railway town, in Middlesbrough.  Our journal ‘the Globe’ is another major vehicle for communication and our thanks go to those who have contributed articles and to our editor, Caroline Hardie.

The Friends have spent a great deal of time contributing to elements of the HAZ programme, with the chair and vice chair attending board meetings of the Rail Heritage Board and several trustees contributing to documents produced as a result of Board commissions such as  the Interpretation Strategy  and the Access Audit.  Ross has taken the lead as always on planning matters (a time consuming but extremely important commitment) and his reports are now being circulated to all members of the Rail Heritage Board to give members an overview of developments in areas they are less familiar with.  We have also taken a significant role in the Access working group for the walking and cycling route and this has proven to be most satisfying and seems to be progressing extremely well.

Across the many, varied projects related to the S&DR, I am pleased to report that our partners recognise the depth of knowledge and experience we can provide.  Much of our research is published in our excellent journal ‘The Globe’, which pushes forward knowledge on the S&DR and its seminal role in the development of the modern railway.  Our expertise is also informing studies on buildings and sites along the line, and I would like to thank all those who contribute already and encourage other members to provide the benefits of their expertise. 

Together with Richie Starrs, our HAZ manager, the Friends held an extremely successful first community consultation event in West Auckland.  This was chosen as the key asset of the Gaunless Bridge is located nearby and is at risk due to vandalism.  The event was attended by more than 60 people, many of them from the local community, and the outcome was a project led by Durham County Council (who financed the consultation event itself) to improve the area around the bridge and further along the embankment.   We very much hope to work with Richie to develop a number of similar consultation events along the line as a means of developing community groups similar to BIG to take an interest in small but significant areas along the line.  A most significant step forward, as mentioned above, is the founding of the new group in Stockton, SIG, which will hopefully be taking the lead for the 195th anniversary celebrations next year, as these will be returning to Stockton.  Our membership has once again grown this year and I am pleased to say we now have over 1000 members in our Facebook group.

The Friends of the Stockton & Darlington Railway are members of the Industrial Heritage Group and the chair and vice chair attend these meetings on our behalf.  We are also members of the Heritage Alliance, and I am delighted to say that through the Alliance we have been awarded a British Council travel scholarship which will allow the chair to travel within the United States in October to further develop our international relationships.  We are working with the TVCA to try to maximise the impact that this will have on the S&DR project and are planning to build on links first made by the chair two years’ ago in Baltimore.

In conclusion, another excellent year of progress as we as a charity continue to develop and the S&DR project matures.  It is however not a time to take our eye of the ball.  The bicentenary is a singular opportunity to put in place a lasting legacy for the future conservation, preservation and access to our wonderful rail heritage.  With five years left to go we are well on the way to achieving something memorable but we still have a long way to go and we must keep supporting and urging our partners on.

Trish Pemberton


28th August 2019