IN­TE­GRAT­ING WITH THE COM­MU­NITY PAYS OFF

Not all rail­ways are able to de­scribe their lo­ca­tions as ‘prime’. Bodmin & Wenford Rail­way man­ager CHRIS HAT­TON ex­plains how novel tie-ups with lo­cal or­gan­i­sa­tions help to boost rev­enue.

Steam Railway (UK) - - INSIDE TRACK -

The Bodmin and Wenford Rail­way ex­ists where it does mainly be­cause china clay freight traf­fic to Wenford Bridge dries con­tin­ued un­til 1983, mean­ing the rails were never lifted and the for­ma­tion and bridges sur­vived in­tact. By this time, there was enough lo­cal in­ter­est in steam trains, rail­ways and com­mu­nity en­ter­prises to al­low a steam cen­tre to be es­tab­lished. Over the in­ter­ven­ing pe­riod, and with a lot of hard work, the rail­way has grown into a six-mile, steeply graded line through the Cor­nish coun­try­side, with a sta­ble of ex-GWR lo­co­mo­tives and a range of wag­ons and car­riages.

Un­for­tu­nately, from a hard-nosed rail­way busi­ness per­spec­tive, the rail­way’s lo­ca­tion is not a prime tourism hotspot. De­spite be­ing sit­u­ated in Corn­wall, Bodmin is not (yet) par­tic­u­larly high on hol­i­day­mak­ers’ hit lists and, as Poldark pre-dates the ar­rival of the rail­ways, we are un­likely to se­cure the spot­light from that quar­ter.

An­other geo­graph­i­cal chal­lenge for the rail­way is that Corn­wall is hemmed in by the sea. Whereas a rail­way lo­cated in the cen­tre of the coun­try can draw vis­i­tors (and vol­un­teers) from any point of the com­pass, we can only re­ally go 15 or so miles to the north or south be­fore we en­counter ocean. This lim­its the pool of peo­ple from which we can at­tract cus­tomers, par­tic­u­larly for the parts of the year con­sid­ered ‘off peak’ by the lo­cal tourism in­dus­try. At these times, we are lim­ited by our lo­cal catch­ment area, for ex­am­ple at Christ­mas for our Santa trains, and in spring and au­tumn for our fam­ily events.

Some­times we have wished we could just pick the track up and move it some­where more ap­peal­ing to the tourist mar­ket, but it is a bit more dif­fi­cult with 12in:1ft scale rail­ways than it used to be with my ‘OO’ gauge model rail­way. Much as we’d like to work trains be­tween the pop­u­lar Pad­stow and Wade­bridge, or Newquay and St Agnes, and eas­ier as it would be to at­tract vis­i­tors to those lo­ca­tions, Bodmin is where we are and where the rail­way will stay.

To draw peo­ple to Bodmin, we typ­i­cally spend around £1 per per­son out of a £13 fare on mar­ket­ing and ad­ver­tis­ing. This has his­tor­i­cally al­lowed us to bal­ance the books and at­tract suf­fi­cient cus­tomers to the rail­way to al­low us to con­tinue to keep our liv­ing mu­seum of mid-Corn­wall’s rail­way his­tory alive.

Faced with the rail­way’s in­her­ent lo­ca­tion-based chal­lenges, we have put a lot of thought in re­cent years into how to make this in­vest­ment stretch fur­ther. We have fo­cused our ef­forts on im­prov­ing our cus­tomer ex­pe­ri­ence, most no­tably at our spe­cial events.

IN­TE­GRA­TION

One way in which we have been im­prov­ing the qual­ity of our events is to co­or­di­nate them with lo­cal or­gan­i­sa­tions so that they of­fer some­thing be­yond a sim­ple train jour­ney. Over the past cou­ple of years, we have changed our ap­proach, from be­ing an in­ward-fac­ing rail­way, con­cerned prin­ci­pally with events in­side our 13 miles of fences, to be­com­ing an or­gan­i­sa­tion that’s more in­te­grated with the lo­cal com­mu­nity.

This has en­tailed the man­age­ment team ded­i­cat­ing time to at­tend­ing com­mu­nity meet­ings and in­ter­est groups to un­der­stand the or­gan­i­sa­tions around us in Bodmin, and to start to build work­ing re­la­tion­ships with them.

We are al­ready see­ing the re­wards of this pol­icy and are con­fi­dent that there are even greater re­wards to come.

We are for­tu­nate that our prin­ci­pal sta­tion – Bodmin Gen­eral – is lo­cated di­rectly across the road from Corn­wall’s Reg­i­men­tal Mu­seum. The two were built ad­ja­cent to each other at a sim­i­lar time, and their his­to­ries are closely linked.

We have al­ways had a shared tick­et­ing ar­range­ment with the mu­seum but, thanks to or­gan­i­sa­tional and staff changes in re­cent years within both or­gan­i­sa­tions, we are now work­ing even more closely to­gether. We are col­lab­o­rat­ing on sev­eral events this year, to our mu­tual ben­e­fit.

WAR EF­FORT

A par­tic­u­lar high­light of this col­lab­o­ra­tive ap­proach was ‘The Trench’ event, which the Reg­i­men­tal Mu­seum ran in sum­mer to com­mem­o­rate the end of the First World War.

For 20 hot sum­mer evenings, 60 new ‘re­cruits’ per night were ‘en­listed’ at the Reg­i­men­tal Mu­seum in the same rooms where men en­listed for the First World War 100 years be­fore­hand.

Each re­cruit was al­lo­cated the iden­tity of a real sol­dier from the Duke of Corn­wall Light In­fantry. The re­cruits were marched across the road to the sta­tion and put on a

UN­FOR­TU­NATELY, FROM A HARD-NOSED RAIL­WAY BUSI­NESS PER­SPEC­TIVE, THE RAIL­WAY’S LO­CA­TION IS NOT A PRIME TOURISM HOTSPOT

train formed of our au­to­coach and what­ever lo­co­mo­tive had been in steam for the ser­vice that day.

The rail­way trans­ported the re­cruits to a tem­po­rary scaf­fold­ing plat­form at Drea­son built for the event, where they were turfed off and marched up the hill to a trench built in a lineside field. An hour later, they had ex­pe­ri­enced a thought-pro­vok­ing piece of im­mer­sive the­atre, been ‘shot’ at a bit and found out whether or not their real DCLI coun­ter­parts had sur­vived the war or per­ished.

Then we took them back to Bodmin Gen­eral. A par­tic­u­larly poignant mo­ment was find­ing the name of the great-grand­fa­ther of one of our fire­men on the DCLI roll of hon­our on the side of ‘The Trench’.

Our young fire­man kindly vol­un­teered to fire the lion’s share of these trains to help com­mem­o­rate the me­mory of his rel­a­tive who had boarded a long troop train, never to set foot on Cor­nish soil again.

While the event was cen­tred less on the rail­way and more on the mu­seum, it was very wel­come in­come for us in the early part of the sum­mer when the weather was unusu­ally dry and hot and pas­sen­ger num­bers were, as a re­sult, slightly lower than we would have liked.

The rail­way jour­ney un­doubt­edly added an ex­tra di­men­sion to the mu­seum’s event and we also pro­vided ‘ra­tion packs’ from our café which, again, was a use­ful source of in­come at a lean time of the year.

‘The Trench’ has been dis­man­tled now and the plat­form taken down. How­ever, while we will not be able to run this event again (not for at least an­other 100 years!) it re­ally demon­strated to us what can be achieved, par­tic­u­larly when work­ing with the other or­gan­i­sa­tions around us.

We have some great ideas for sim­i­lar joint ven­tures over the next few years and we are con­fi­dent that this is a growth area that we can build on to help se­cure our rail­way’s fu­ture for years to come.

BWR

First World War re-en­ac­tors trudge into the dis­tance, hav­ing alighted from one of the Bodmin & Wenford Rail­way’s ‘Trench’ trains at Drea­son on July 15.

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