Chair’s Report April 2019


(Incorporating the Vice-Chair’s Report)


APRIL 4 2019

Welcome once again to the monthly meeting of the Friends – I really cannot believe how fast the months are flying by.  It is time for the Globe, our journal, to be published so thanks once again to everyone who has contributed to producing what is a very valuable source of information and record of research we are undertaking.

The trustees of the Friends met last Thursday night and confirmed the use of the new agenda with one or two minor tweaks.  The minutes of that meeting will be circulated over the next few weeks to members.  We are now looking to claim the Gift Aid we are due which will help to support our finances.

I hope many of you will enjoy reading the article on the Gaunless Workshop which was reported on last month.  There are already some positive outcomes from this event – such outcomes are very important if we are to secure local commitment to guaranteeing the long-term future of the S&DR once 2025 is over and visitors go home.  First of all, a meeting was held at the Gaunless Bridge a week later to assess the situation there.  Durham County Council has subsequently collected the stone that was at risk, both on land and in the river and this is now is safe storage.  The embankment nearby has been cleared of fly tipping and stones placed strategically to reduce the risk of further fly tipping in the future.  Durham has also agreed (in principle) to assist us with moving the original S&DR stone sleepers from Hamsterley to safe storage once we know how many we have and we deem this appropriate.  The relationship with Durham County Council is a very positive one and we hope to build on this further in the future.

Secondly, it has also been agreed that a ‘Big Spring Clean’ type event will be held in the bridge area early in May, with support from DCC and the Environment Agency, and we hope to use this event to launch a ‘BIG’ style group for the area at the same time.  If anyone can think of an appropriate name for this group please send contributions to me.  A consultation event in Shildon (Civic Hall) is provisionally booked for the morning of September 27th.  Discussions will take place regarding this once Bryan Harris is back home from his epic visit to New Zealand.  John Raw is now a member of the delivery board for the Gaunless Gateway project which is building on our partnership working.

Members of the Friends are continuing to spread the word about the S&DR e.g. with a talk given to the Rotary Club of Crook, which was also attended by members of the Bishop Auckland Rotary Club.  This was fortuitous as John Raw is helping the latter club organise a walk along the full length of the line over several days in the near future.  Detail of this will be circulated in case anyone would like to support them.  The BA Rotarians will be raising money for Rotary International’s drive to ‘end polio now’.  Caroline gave a very well received talk to the Cleveland and Teesside Local History Society and Teesside University History Group.  We have several other talks booked in over the month of April e.g. with Heighington Parish Council.

Monday 25th March was a very busy day.  The chair and vice-chair met with the company that is consulting on potential plans for the Darlington Rail Heritage Quarter.  These will be significant due to the £20m investment announced by the TVCA mayor.  The two ladies we met with seemed to value our contribution and share our view that even though opening day in 1825 is very important, the stories of how we got there and what happened in the next five or so years are equally important.  We hoped to invite them to tonight’s meeting to carry out consultation with members of the Friends but this has not proven to be possible.

The chair and vice-chair then attended a HAZ meeting in Durham, the highlight of which was a presentation by the Bright Water manager, a project that is aimed at improving the area around the River Skerne and the river itself.  They are concerned with the environment, heritage and community engagement.  What delighted us both is that Paul made it absolutely clear that he wants to support us in what we are doing and align as much as possible the projects and activities of the Bright Water Landscape Partnership with the work of the Friends of the S&DR and the HAZ.  This was very refreshing and encouraging as the scheme is in operation till 2022.  Perhaps we should consider inviting Paul to give us a talk at one of forthcoming meetings.

One of the items discussed at the trustees’ meeting was the speakers and visits programme.  We are in the process of developing this under the leadership of Mike, our events manager.  We visited Bannantynes Hotel in Darlington as a potential venue for a programme of three talks a year by significant speakers and it looks as if this is going to be possible.  The room we would use is very pleasant indeed.  The idea for the venue came from the 193rd birthday dinner in Darlington – the marketing team from Bannantynes attended and offered their support.   The first speaker will be Ray State on 27th June.  We will circulate details once these have been confirmed, including the title of the talk.  Mike is also confirming dates for some visits for the Friends over the next several months.  The ultimate aim is to produce a calendar of events for the year to facilitate the Friends’ planning.

The Access Audit is now underway by WSP Consultants.  This is a very important piece of work as, after all, a lot of our work is aimed at making the S&DR more accessible to people and to realise the potential for a walking and cycling route along the line.  Caroline spent an hour in telephone conference with them going over the issues along the line and Ross will be attending a workshop on our behalf and I am sure will be reporting back next month. 

The chair and vice-chair have had a meeting to progress our Resilient Heritage Bid.  We recognise that we need to work in partnership with the three councils to be successful, so we have agreed to produce a one page summary document to present to the councils, and then meet with key people at each council to secure their support.  This is now a top priority for us as it will influence how the Friends develop in the future.

Ross will be reporting on our work in relation to planning – a great deal of work is ongoing here and progress is being made.  Several of the Friends attended the official opening last week of the newly renovated Thickley Bridge which is now freely accessible to the disabled and parents with pushchairs.  Ross and Alan (T) attended a meeting on Monday with Steven Pilkington, planning officer at DCC regarding the development at Forrest park, Newton Aycliffe which will have a significant impact on the proposed walking and cycling route.  They have submitted a report on the meeting which I am sure we have all read.

Finally, an appeal!  We are looking for a new secretary to take up the torch from Alan Macnab and wonder if there is anyone out there who would like to become more involved in everything that is happening for the S&DR.  If there is, please let me know and we will explain what is involved. 

Trish Pemberton