For those of you who don’t know me, I have the privilege of being Chairman of the Urie Locomotive Society, Often found at Ropley as part of the ULS engineering team and always chasing for new members and donations to get our projects done. Those who do know me will be weII aware that l am a born optimist, enjoy a challenge and never give up until I have achieved mv objectives.
Clearly my passion is the ULS, but where exactly are the boundaries? Should my efforts be pureiyfocused at all times on our Society and its assets? There is an argument to say that is exactIy the space I need to be in, but then how do you define ′that space’? In truth I need to look to our supporters as well as members, future overhauls as well as current restorations and l need to consider the land our assets are sitting on as we as the assets themselves; l absolutely need to consider our home. They say home is where the heart is and my heart, our heart, is at the Watercress Line; this is our home and this is where the ULS belongs. So, if the railway is our home, What does that make all of us?? Railway enthusiasts, stakeholders in a heritage railway, of course we are those things, but we are also something far, far greater, We are a family… We are The Watercress Line family.
The Coronavirus pandemic is something the like of which none of us have ever seen before; it’s a once-in-a-hundred-years’ event and something millions would not expect to experience in their lifetime. The effects have been devastating the tragic loss of life, the huge impact on families who have lost Ioved ones and the damage to the economy are simply frightening. The world is a very strange place in these unprecedented times of restriction and furlough but there will come a day when we will move away from aII of this and our lives can begin to return to normal, but Iet’s not pretend, it will be a very new kind of normaI. For many of us, l suspect the social distancing we have embraced over these last 8 weeks or so will be maintained it’s almost become a comfort factor. Whilst we all wish the clock could be turned back and Coronavirus condemned to some bad dream, SickeningIy this isn’t he case; we have to live with it and we hope to live through it. So when the great day comes that the green light is given to reopening heritage railways, Will there be a railway to reopen… you bet you there will!
Before lock-down, the Watercress Line had 2 significant inflows off funds: compensation following the closure of Butts bridge and the hugely successful visit of Flying Scotsman. By earIy March a pIan had been drawn up for a host of capitaI projects to be undertaken. Some were necessary repairs/renewals, some represented improvements to the infrastructure, some were continued overhauls and restorations of rolling-stock and motive power; all had a cost and that cost was to be borne out of the exceptional income mentioned above. Temporary closure of the railway has dictated these funds be diverted toward supporting the operating costs which, even without trains running, are not insignificant. Frustrating it may be that these funds are having to be utilised in this way, but we must be grateful they are there; they are precisely why the health of the railway is not terminal. With the weIl-publicised costs of maintaining the railway even in a lock-down state running at circa £75,000pm, those reserves are being nibbled away. The call I’m making now is not about saving the railway, it WILL survive and we will all be back. This calls about protecting the assets, the infrastructure, the family treasures. It’s also about enabling the railway to prepare for life in the new normal when our paying public come back to see us, What will they expect? Well kept stations, welcoming staff, clean coaches, gleaming locomotives are all part of the visitor experience but now we must add something new. Whatever we offer, from train journeys to guided tours, dining trains to special events, We will absolutely need to make certain everyone feels safe, secure and protected, not just from insect bites and trip hazards but from Coronavirus. I said earlier that social distancing has become a comfort one for many of us and we must all embrace that at the railway. Some things could be as simpIe as a piece of tape or a sign, others could involve more significant changes, Whatever is required there is one thingWe can be sure of… there will be cost.
During the latter part of 2019, early 2020 the new boards had been steadfastly working to put the Watercress Line on a path to growth and success, a path from which the whoIe family would benefit. Covid-19 has seemingly changed those pIans …‥ but does that have to be the case? NO IT DOESN’T! We are the Watercress line family, we are powerful We are strong, We are determined and by working together we CAN change the tide. In the land of Urie we have a dogged determination and if anyoneever dares say ‘you’ll never do that’ it’s like a red rag to a bull We will find away! The railway can be the same. We have a Board and management team bringing new energy to the railway, we have paid staff and volunteers working with a smile on their faces and a willingness and desire to ′get stuck in’. 2 months ago I could sense real drive and enthusiasm around the railway as we set about the next chapter in our story. It doesn’t need to stop, it mustn’t stop, it won’t stop -We will not be beaten by any evil virus.
So now to the crux and yes, it’s about money. Will you please join me in a virtual club, ‘TheWatercress Line – Club of 2O20’? Membership fees are down to the individual, Simply a monthIv payment of whatever amount you feel comfortable with for the remaining 8 months of this year. There are no gimmicky rewards attached to WCL-C2020, no mugs or t-Shirts, no free drinks or meals, just a target to raise £75,000 in each of those months – that’s an average of £15 Per month per head for everymember, shareholder staffer and volunteer. I fully appreciate some may not wish or be able to give, some may contribute a few quid, Others greater than the average. 1t matters not what we do individual, what matters is that the family pulls together.
The Watercress Line has one hell of a story to tell. Chapter 1 was written when the railway first opened in October 1865 and numerous chapters have been penned since. For many of us the most significant chapter in our lifetimes was written in April 1977 with the reopening to fare paying passengers on the stretch of line from Alresford to RopIey. The next chapter will be equally as important but it isn’t written yet, so this is our chance. Whether you are a member of staff, Volunteer, supporter, owninggroup, board member/trustee, visitor, supplier or other stake-holder of The Watercress Line, this is our opportunity to write that piece of future history, this is the time to show our strength. We are an incredible bunch of people, we can work miracles and with resilience and resolve we can do the impossible – it might just take a while longer! Let’s do this, let’s give the board the funding they need to ensure the investment, protection and growth continues and let’s show the world what can really be done when a family pulls together. l’m up for it, l know others who are, will you join us for the ride? We have a story to tell and boy are we going to tell it in style.One last promise, if we can pull this off, 2021 will see the party of all parties at Ropley!
Thank you for reading this, stay safe everyone and I look forward to seeing many of you some time soon, back once again at home… on The Watercress Line.
Chairman ULS, and part of The Watercress Line family
Please use the details below to set up you standing order:
- Sort Code – 20-97-01
- Account – 70551899
- Mid Hants Railway Preservation Society Limited
- Quote WCLC2020 in the reference box
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Please print and complete the form then send to the address given.
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