Chair’s Report, March 2019



First of all, can I say a very big ‘thank you’ to everyone who assisted with or attended the workshop in West Auckland to debate the future of the Gaunless Bridge on Friday 1st March.  This was the first consultation event organised under the auspices of the HAZ, led by HAZ manager, Richie Starr and ourselves as lead Rail Heritage Board partner.  Thanks go to Richie for all the work he put into making the event so successful, giving us the opportunity to demonstrate our skills in partnership working as a lot of the organisation was completed by the Friends, making use of our local knowledge and contacts.  John Raw’s input was particularly valuable here.

Particular thanks go to our speaker, Caroline, our IT expert, John Wilson, Angela and Peter who did sterling work in the kitchen and to people who arrived early to help set up and put up exhibitions and stayed on afterwards to help clear away.  Apologies if I have forgotten anyone.

The event was extremely successful with very good attendance of 60 plus people, many of whom were from the local community – something that matters very much to me as I have in the past attended local consultation events where not a single person actually came from the local community.  The talks by Caroline (on our behalf), Richie and Peter Nailon of the Wear Rivers Trust Gaunless Project raised the profile of the HAZ and the overall S&DR project, while the workshop element gave valuable insight into what local people would like to see happen in the area of a key element of the S&DR.  The input from the police and fire brigade were very welcome.  Sadly some key people were unable to attend due to a funeral.

Historic England was very well represented as was Durham County Council and organisations like the Environment Agency and Sustrans, all of whom are key partners in the S&DR project, including the creation of the walking and cycling route.  Local history groups were also very much in evidence, thanks in large part to John Raw who has recently set up a history group in St Helens Auckland.  Our MP Helen Goodman also attended.  The two exhibitions (one by BIG on Brusselton and one by the chair on the Haggerleases line and Cockfield fell) were appreciated by everyone.  Several people took the opportunity to visit the Gaunless Bridge area after the event.

The local Parish Council paid for the hire of the village hall (an excellent venue), Durham County Council paid for the major part of the buffet lunch and Pemberton Education Services covered the cost of the tea, coffee etc.   Something like 60 people attended, including representatives from a local school and local farmers who farm along the line near the Hummerbeck Bridge.  Some valuable networking took place and key relationships were built for the future.  Our sincere thanks go to the Parish Council and to Durham County Council.

As a result of the event, we may be giving two more talks to local history groups on the S&DR project, as well as the one finalised for April to Heighington Parish Council and another to the Rotary Club of Crook.  We will be working closely with Cllr Heather Smith who represents Cockfield and Etherley, who attended the workshop and also Pat Wilson who runs the One Stop Shop in Eldon Lane – covering two key branch lines, the Haggerleases and the Black Boy.  There will also be follow up articles in the local press.

During February I attended the Rail Heritage Board Communications Strategy meeting in Stockton which focussed on how to manage communications between the various partners e.g with the press, radio and TV.

On February 10th H-Y and John led a very successful walk along the S&DR from St Helens Auckland to the approaches to the Brusselton Incline, which was very well attended and was blessed with good weather.  We had a very pleasant coffee break at Broom Hill Farm and on the way back, some of us explored the underpass under the St Helens bypass to see how this would fit in with providing access for the proposed walking and cycling route.  This was very opportune as the access audit has now been formally commissioned by the Rail Heritage Board.

The Friends and BIG were very much in evidence at the Durham County Council launch of this year’s ‘Big Spring Clean’ at Locomotion, NRM Shildon, making up about 1/3 of the total ‘bodies’ present.  This was important as we were cleaning up the foot/cycle path that links Locomotion to Newton Aycliffe Railway Station.  We collected over 80 bags of rubbish and made contact with Sustrans, which led to the Sustrans regional cycle way development officer, Claire, attending the West Auckland workshop.  We also got some worthwhile publicity through Mike Amos of the Northern Echo who attended the event. 

On February 13th I attended another event, this time at St John’s Roman Catholic Secondary School in Bishop Auckland to celebrate work they had done to link the arts and heritage, using funding provided by the Northern Heartlands Great Places Scheme.  As part of the photography project, I took the students on a tour of Cockfield Fell and introduced them to the railway heritage of the Haggerleases line and the later high route linking Bishop Auckland to Barnard Castle.  I am also busy working on the heritage element of a schools’ package which includes the S&DR.  We are currently building very solid foundations with schools in the West Auckland/St Helens Auckland/Bishop Auckland, Eldon Lane/Gurney Valley and Cockfield areas which we will be able to build on later.

During February, I completed an application on our behalf to the Heritage Alliance/British Council for a travel grant to enable me to visit a number of colleagues in the USA in October to build on existing links there and create new ones.  I will be visiting the Smithsonian, the Lexington Group, the Baltimore and Ohio Railway Museum and another history group interested in early railway history.  The idea is to build on the work being led by Jane H-Y and Jonathan on the influence of the S&DR on early railway development in the USA.  Competition for the grants will be fierce so I can only keep my fingers crossed and hope.

On Monday morning my postponed meeting with the area Business Manager for Barclays is taking place to discuss ways that Barclays might get involved with heritage locally.  I look forward to this with interest.  In the afternoon I will be attending the Northern Heartlands board meeting.   I also hope to attend the Shildon Networking Business event in the Civic Hall in Shildon on Thursday morning.

Niall and a number of trustees have spent a great deal of time wrestling with the problem of the late notification of the proposal to knock down the Urlay Nook signal box and other structures.  I will be asking Niall to speak about this one as I was away on holiday in Cyprus at the time.  I will also be asking Niall to speak about the storage of the iron work etc from the Thickley Bridge.

Caroline spoke to the business networking group in Barnard Castle about forthcoming opportunities that the overall S&DR project will provide for them.  A lengthy article followed in the Teesdale Mercury which, again, spreads the word, particularly up the dale and raises awareness of the HAZ and the overall S&DR project.  Plans are afoot to talk to more business groups in the near future.

In terms of the celebrations for the next anniversary, I have nothing much to report other than that discussions are underway at Durham regarding what is feasible and how much money they are able to put into the event.  I have asked Barclays if there is any way they can help, and will be discussing this with Darlington Building Society (meeting arranged via Peter Bainbridge), Hitachi and any other contacts that anyone can suggest.

In terms of the bigger picture for the S&DR, the access audit has been commissioned for the line which is a vital prerequisite for the walking and cycling route.  The next board meeting where the Interpretation commission will be presented, with the results of the consultation exercise, has not yet taken place.  The Cultural group meeting was due but was cancelled and has yet to be rearranged.

I am sure Niall (and others) will add anything I have forgotten, particularly things that happened or were covered while I was enjoying my birthday in Cyprus – and apparently missing some quite nice weather closer to home.

Trish Pemberton