By Cliff Thomas

All Aboard with a £1,757,200 Lottery win securing the future for Colne Valley Railway

Published: 7th December 2016

Essex heritage railway scoops the jackpot and ends uncertainty about its future

Colne Valley Railway Preservation Society has received a confirmed grant of £1,757,200 from the Heritage Lottery Fund for its ‘All Aboard: Developing the Colne Valley Railway’ project. The award aims to provide long-term sustainability for the Colne Valley Railway.

Battling through adversity

Colne Valley Railway has battled through many years of uncertainty since the railway site was sold by its founder in 2006 to landlords based abroad. For a period in 2015 its future existence at the Castle Hedingham site was in doubt after the landowner announced their offer to sell the site to the charity had been withdrawn and the railway would have to relocate.

Many options, including around 30 alternative locations, were investigated while discussions continued. Agreement was finally reached with the landowner to split the site so the charity could purchase the railway elements of the location, including the important heritage buildings, whilst the landowner retained the rest of the site - which included the CVR’s public entrance, car parking and events field. A separate agreement has been made to purchase an adjacent field from where a new site entrance can be constructed and which will also serve as access to a parking area.

New site entrance

Crucially, the HLF grant will unlock funds to purchase the 13-acre railway site (presently leased) as agreed with the landowner. The project will be developed by provision of a new entrance and building with visitor facilities plus two important new Centre’s on the CVR’s main site.

The new public entrance will be from a new road junction off the main A1017, closer to the village of Castle Hedingham. The main car park area will have provision (reinforced grids set into the grass with clearly marked bays) for around 125 vehicles. There will also be an overflow car park capable of accommodating a further 125 vehicles.

The new reception building, a 12metre by 10metre steel framed building clad railway-style in cream with green relief, on the route from the car park to the main site will incorporating ticket office, shop and toilet functions.

Cubitt Skills Centre

The Cubitt Skills Centre will be a modern 25 square metre building with three tracks and workshop space utilising solar roof panels and rain water collection for use in steam locomotives. There will be step-free public access to view work in progress. It is targeted to become a centre of excellence for the overhaul and restoration of historic railway carriages employing skilled staff. In due course, apprentices will also receive training.

Joseph Cubitt (1811-1872) was the engineer of the original Colne Valley & Halstead Railway and designed the distinctive station buildings on the line, one of which has been relocated to Colne Valley Railway. He subsequently designed Blackfriars Railway Bridge in London. He was the son of Sir William Cubitt, best known for the original Crystal Palace in Hyde Park, London.

Brewster Interpretation Centre

The Brewster Interpretation Centre will comprise the existing museum with an extension doubling its size, toilets and a digitisation studio. Fulfilling the charitable aims of the society, ‘to advance the education of the public with regard to the history of (the central area of) East Anglia and the Colne Valley & Halstead Railway’ it will tell the story of the railway and the local community by deploying the latest developments in museum displays to both entertain and inform visitors.

Through a collaboration programme working with the local community, the archive collections held by the CVR charity and others will be digitised and joined through a single web portal allowing on-line public access to the collections for the first time. The charity’s existing education programme will be enhanced and developed allowing a greater range of students to benefit.

James Brewster (1807-1890) was a farmer and landowner in Halstead and the driving force behind setting up the original Colne Valley & Halstead Railway. He was the railway’s first chairman from 1856 until 1879 and funded the railway’s locomotives when it could not afford to buy them itself.

The Brewster Centre will also seek to act as a gateway, pointing visitors to other heritage attractions in the area.

They said:

Paul Lemon , Chairman of the Colne Valley Railway Preservation Society: “We are delighted that the Heritage Lottery Fund has given us their full support. This allows the Railway to secure its future and to develop the site with some first-class facilities for the local community, our visitors and the railway preservation world alike. We would also like to thank Braintree District Council for their support with this project.”

Robyn Llewellyn , Head of HLF East of England: “Thanks to National Lottery players we’re delighted to support this project. Owning the land, trains and buildings will enable CVR to invest in a positive future for this heritage railway while new premises, digital access and training opportunities for apprentices will transform access to the railway’s many wonderful stories.”

Cllr Tom Cunningham , Cabinet Member for Economic Development at Braintree District Council: “We’re proud to have been able to support Colne Valley Railway Preservation Society via our Business Growth Loan Fund which helped them secure a Heritage Lottery Fund grant of £1.75million and will be directly invested in the North of the District. Colne Valley Railway is one of our major rural tourism and heritage destinations – a wonderful day out for families and school children and a great example of one of our local attractions.”

The Braintree District Business Growth Loan Fund is a £500,000 scheme offered at a commercial rate to innovative and growing businesses located in, or moving into, the District.

Local railway background

The original Colne Valley (& Halstead) Railway was built by the local community after the area was ignored by the big Victorian railway companies. Today’s Colne Valley Railway was set up on what had become a virtually green field site in 1973. Since its inception, Colne Valley Railway has specialised in visits by schools (around 50 schools a year) and organisations caring with those with special needs, as well as welcoming local families and enthusiasts.

The supporting society was formed in 1974 and has recently converted into a registered charity. It has around 400 members.

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