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Meet the woman who helps volunteers clean up railways all over the region

Connecting community-spirited volunteers with railway stations in need of a little TLC is all in a day’s work for Fay Easton.

Fay Easton with one of the volunteer teams
Fay Easton with one of the volunteer teams

She is head of stakeholders and community for West Midlands Railway, operated by West Midlands Trains.

Working across the network, Fay, who lives in Shropshire, covers all things ‘community rail’ within an hour’s radius of Birmingham by train.

Community rail is a growing movement that includes station adoption groups and an army of volunteers across Britain, who work to transform stations into vibrant places of welcome and make rail journeys more pleasant for passengers.

This can range from making improvements such as the planting of flowers and the addition of art installations, bringing stations back to life, to playing a key role in delivering projects which promote inclusion, diversity, creativity and sustainable travel.

Across the network, there are 235 listed adopters supporting 64 stations.

“Over the last 20 years, community rail as a movement has supported the growth of community groups all over the country,” says Fay.

“These groups work in and around the stations to help enrich the experience of rail users and support local communities.

“Over the past five years, at West Midlands Railway, we have worked closely with local people to expand this model into urban areas. And as time goes on, community partnerships with the railways are getting stronger and their works are truly changing lives,” she explains.

Volunteer-led projects completed at stations last year included spring and summer planting in volunteer-created gardens at Coseley railway station, the creation of wildflower gardens along the Shrewsbury Line at Bilbrook and an urban mural at Wylde Green station in Sutton Coldfield.

Fay Easton and station volunteers

Another was a Rail, Trail, Ale ramble project which aimed to encourage people to travel to Albrighton by train, enjoy a guided ramble through the Shropshire countryside, and then relax with a drink or bite to eat at one of the pubs, restaurants or coffee shops.

The initial scheme was launched thanks to funding through West Midlands Railway’s Your Community, Your Fund grant. A website was set up detailing the walks and posters were printed and installed at railway stations.

“I have worked with the rail communities of the West Midlands for the last five years and have made so many friends during that time. I absolutely love the community engagement part of my role; both the company and the community have the same aspirations, as we all want the railways to be a central part of local life and for stations to represent the area. The rail industry really does connect with all aspects of local life,” explains Fay.

Fay Easton has worked with the rail communities of the West Midlands for the last five years

Her day-to-day responsibilities range from working with community groups to sharing ideas with other managers from train operators around the country.

“My job is multi-faceted from station change-making projects such as community art installations, ‘greening-up’ and the re-use of redundant station buildings, to working with communities and volunteers developing localism projects. I also support the ‘levelling up agenda’ and of course attracting passengers back to rail, my role spans the whole spectrum of engagement and activities.

"A large part of my work for the past year has been working with communities in partnership with the rail industry on strategic developments for the recovery of rail. The individuals and groups we work with are all experts on their own local areas, while many of our stakeholders are entrepreneurial, as well as community-spirited, and their input and innovation is a priceless asset.

“As well as working with communities, at West Midlands Trains I am part of an industry-wide group to bring together ‘community rail’ managers from train operators around the country. We meet regularly to share ideas and collaborate on the ways we can help to evolve ‘community rail’ to be a central part of the industry.

“This rail managers’ community group came about during the first lockdown, as we joined forces to develop our policies for dealing with the previous ‘unknowns’ that the pandemic created for the community rail sector. We all valued the cross-industry collaboration, and we continue to relish the opportunity to get together and share ideas; we are not in competition, we are all one industry, and we all have the same aim to connect to local neighbourhoods and enrich the communities.”

This year, volunteers are looking forward to involving their local stations in celebrations for two major events.

“A focus at West Midlands Railway this coming year is to celebrate the Commonwealth Games and the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, and the communities are alive with ideas for their local stations,” says Fay.

“I’m so proud to work with the volunteers who support the railways; not only station adopters, but also the Rail User Groups with volunteer members who work closely with us and strive to improve the quality of passenger journeys and encourage the expansion of rail use across the network.

“I am blessed to work for an industry that is central to the lives of so many people and to work with people who support their own communities with such passion and energy.

“The heart of ‘community rail’ for me is most definitely the people."

If you would like to get involved with West Midlands Community Rail movement and support your local station, visit westmidlandsrailway.co.uk/community-rail or email fay.easton@wmtrains.co.uk

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