Chair’s Report – June 2019

Welcome once again to the chair’s report – incorporating the vice-chair’s report.  Another busy month has passed and there is, as usual, a good deal to tell you about.

The chair and vice-chair attended the Rail Heritage Board meeting at the start of May and afterwards attended a short ‘catch up’ meeting with Linda Tuttiett and Richard Lewis of TVCA.  WSP, the company developing the Access Audit gave a very encouraging presentation on their work so far, and we hope that in the not too distant future they will attend one of our meetings to give us a progress update.  At the meeting afterwards, a suggestion was made that it would be helpful if someone from the board (effectively the TVCA) attended our meetings and gave a regular update to the Friends and this has been agreed by the trustees at the bi-monthly meeting held last Thursday.  We hope to take this forward with the Rail Heritage Board in the near future.

The chair attended the Northern Heartlands board meeting held in Hamsterley village hall.  The NH Great Places scheme is developing a community opera with Opera North which is focussed on local heritage, including mining and railway heritage – which basically means the S&DR.  They are planning to launch the opera officially on the weekend of 27th September, so we are in discussions regarding launching it at Locomotion, either as part of our Friday night dinner or as part of the Sunday, more family friendly event.  This should include a musical element on one or other of the two days.   Jill Cole, the director of the Northern Heartlands, is looking for more volunteers to take part in the community opera and I am thinking of taking part myself.   The next event as part of the project is taking place at Shildon on the morning of 16th June at the Shildon campus of Greenfield School.  Anyone can come along to learn some songs and get a peek at the first draft of the opera story line.

Our first major talk is taking place on 27th June at Bannantynes in Darlington – details on our Facebook page.  We are currently looking for alternative venues so that we can hold the talks in different areas.  I am delighted to say that the Eden Arms at Rushyford Roundabout near Newton Aycliffe has offered to host us.  It is an old coaching inn and already hosts coach trips which take in visits to Locomotion so it seems an appropriate place to meet, and is not too far off the A1M.  Friends in Stockton are looking for venues at that end of the line as well.

The chair was invited for the second time to take part in an hour long programme by Durham county councillor and Aycliffe town councillor John Clare to update the community on the S&DR project.  We are now looking for other trustees and members with appropriate experience to appear on other radio stations to do a similar update on the project.  If you are interested, please contact the chair directly on

The chair attended the most recent access audit meeting at the TVCA and was most impressed with the work of WSP.  We received copies of the presentation and work on identifying the key heritage assets being undertaken by TGAC, who came and presented to us earlier in the year.  A great deal of time was put into developing the Friends’ official response by the vice-chair, Ross and myself as we were concerned that the key heritage list TGAC  had developed and given to WSP was in need of considerable work.  Ross and I both met (separately) with Richie Starrs our HAZ officer to discuss our concerns.   I am delighted to say that, as expected, opportunities are being developed to feed back to TGAC our findings and we will make sure that these are incorporated into the final listing.  This is a critical piece of work as it will inform so much else as we go into the future.

Niall and Ross attended the official opening of the Rail Housing Association development at Haughton Road in Darlington where the 1841 GNER engine shed has been conserved and made into flats and the route of the S&DR left as a new road following our input into planning matters.  I am delighted to say that the Rail Heritage Board have requested that Ross supplies them with a copy of his planning report on a regular basis for information purposes.  This speaks to the quality of the work that Ross does on our behalf and he deserves our congratulations.

The chair attended a delivery group meeting for the Heritage on Track Great Places Scheme in Darlington.  Niall led a guided walk/talk on their behalf from Fighting Cocks to North Road which was attended by 26 people, including Ross.  Niall would like thank Leona at the Head of Steam for allowing the group access to Locomotion No. 1 and the Groundwork Trust for paying for train tickets for the participants.

The chair attended the BIG AGM at Locomotion and learned that a TV company had been in touch as they are filming a series of programmes for the Yesterday channel on railways, but with a focus on railway architecture.  This company has a proven track record in developing and delivering railway related history programmes with people like Peter Snow as presenters.  They contacted BIG as they are interested in including, amongst other S&DR sites, the Brusselton Incline and they are keen to be historically accurate and perhaps filming with local people knowledgeable about the sites.  Niall, Caroline, John (Wilson) and myself met with them on Bank Holiday Monday in Malton and Caroline gave them a very through history lesson on the sites they were interested in.  We also had an opportunity to bring to their attention our plans to develop TV programmes for 2025 so I think the link could be very productive in the near future and beyond.  So watch this space!

As many of you probably know, the Railway Institute in Shildon is at risk of closing.  This is a real pity as, although it is housed in an early 20th century building, when it was set up in the early 1830’s by people including our own Timothy Hackworth, it was the first Railway Institute of its kind in the world.  Jane Hackworth-Young represented us and was one of the speakers at the meeting and it is our intention to try to support them wherever possible.

The chair was unable to attend the public meeting at the Railway Institute as on that day she was in London representing us at a series of legal seminars put on by the Heritage Alliance in co-operation with a major legal firm in London which specialises in working with charities such as our own.  It was worthwhile for the networking opportunities it provided, but also because two seminars in particular will be increasingly relevant to us: on the role of trustees and employment and HR top tips.  The issue of the differences between employees and volunteers was very interesting.

The chair was invited to present to the Middleton-St-George Annual Parish Assembly on the S&DR project overall, and the HAZ in particular.  The assembly was attended by approximately 40 local people, including the local history group which had recently been given a presentation by Niall, our vice-chair.  The Parish Council is in the process of developing its Neighbourhood Plan and is very keen to do all it can to support and make use of its heritage, including that of the S&DR.  This is no surprise as the Parish Clerk is our secretary, Alan McNab.  Through the presentation we made contact with the local Britain in Bloom group and we will be working in partnership with them and meeting with the judges next month.  This will be helpful to the group as, earlier in March, it was suggested at the first judges’ visit that they should be developing the Fighting Cocks site e.g. rebuilding walls and planting flowers there and developing interpretation boards there.  Luckily, the Britain in Bloom group understood the historic importance of the site and avoided the mistake of ploughing on without guidance from an organisation such as our own. 

We hope to present to the Parish Council in the near future and also to work with Richie Starrs to organise a community consultation event in Middleton-St-George.  I am hoping Ross will be saying something about a local planning application that will shortly be going forward in his planning report.  A similar presentation is also being planned with Richie for a community group that meets in Witton Park, in collaboration with the Northern Heartlands and ourselves.

The chair is also working throughout the summer term with local schools in the Gaunless area on a Wear Rivers Trust project which includes visits to the Gaunless Bridge and the Haggerleases branch line.  This is aimed at increasing local knowledge in the younger generation about the S&DR.  Jane Hackworth-Young, John Raw and myself are working on delivering education programmes to schools in the Shildon area in the week or so leading up to the birthday weekend 27th September and we are hoping to focus on partnership working with, amongst others, Locomotion, NRM Shildon.

Some of you may remember that, three years’ ago, as part of the first birthday celebrations held in Shildon, the chair and the Rotary Club of Newton Aycliffe organised a sponsored walk along the line from Newton Aycliffe Railway Station to Locomotion.  We are currently developing plans to repeat this on Sunday September 29th, with a focus on fundraising for the Friends of the S&DR.  So please put this in your planners and hopefully as many of us as possible can take part and raise much needed funds for the Friends.

As I said earlier, the trustees met last Thursday and were delighted that Martin (The Time Traveller) attended to represent Barry, who is away on holiday (lucky man) and explain the plans that the new group, SIG, has for the near future.  These include a number of events which will be uploaded to our Facebook page and also circulated by Peter, our membership secretary.  We are hoping that Martin will attend the trustees meetings on a regular basis to increase representation from the Stockton end of the line, especially as he has significant skills and expertise to bring with him.

I am quite sad to have to let you know that Richard Lewis is leaving the TVCA and moving on to pastures knew.  I would like to thank him on our behalf for all the work he has done towards making the S&DR project a success, including the time he has given to attending our meetings and wish him all the best for the future.  In the short term Kirsty McGready is taking over as our main contact – I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate her on her recent wedding.  As you might have guessed given Kirsty’s enthusiasm for the S&DR project, it was railway linked!

Trish Pemberton

Chair, Friends of the S&DR