They recently gathered for our photocall to mark a major milestone in the development of the city charity as both a visitor attraction and a destination which helps create a sense of wellbeing.
After harnessing a £208K grant from the National Lottery’s Heritage Culture Recovery Fund the venue on Chain Caul Way, Preston has invested in a cafe renovation and developed its attractions to encourage visitors to stay a little longer.
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The main new attraction is an attention capturing mural - a timeline of the development of steam, diesel and electric trains by city based artist Gavin Renshaw. The pictures, created in spray paint, feature references to local scenes and landmarks including St Walburge's church spire. The murals are displayed on one side of the exterior of the main building, with four more local landscape scenes to follow, highlighting the role trains have played in the region's industry. These will be located on the other side of the building.
Chairman Dave Watkins said: “We were over the moon when we got the grant. It’s brilliant...the murals are the number one thing really because they are so good and so unusual.”
He explained it is all part of encouraging people to savour both the indoor and outdoor attractions at Ribble Steam Railway. He said: “We’re very much an indoor activity apart from the train rides outdoors. We’re trying to buff up the exterior.”
Gavin said: "It's a timeline of engines which are significant to the Preston and the West Coast mainline and this whole area. It starts with Stephenson's Rocket."
He used acrylic external spray paint, painting directly on to the building. He added: "I'm very pleased with it. It was done under quite challenging conditions because of the weather we had. But using this spray means you can work through bad weather sometimes and work quite quickly."
In addition to St Walburge's spire visitors can spot part of Preston's vanished past - the Preston Nos. 1 Signal Box and the North Preston signal gantry.
Ribble Steam Railway is also running a community wellness project. Dave said: “We have been bringing new life to our railway at a time when we appreciate people have been suffering, often at home away from loved ones. Our stunning open-air art mural will blow the cobwebs away and an origami inspired wellness project will start to take form in the coming months."
He said their new outdoor and online spaces would be places "where we can safely gather together and reconnect... A place where volunteers and visitors can share their journey and form a community, sharing thoughts and feelings about their lives during a pandemic."
He continued: "We want to reach out to share our love of industrial railways and rich tradition of preservation in new ways that reflect the times we live in.”
There is a new new interactive exhibit on the Railway’s Travelling Post Office (TPO) carriage, plus displays on Whittingham Asylum which was served directly by a local train line which was advertised internationally as a freight route, but also carried passengers. A train, almost identical to the train which ran on the Whittingham line, is also on display.
Adam Robinson, research and interpretation assistant said: “Extensive research has been made to build upon our existing displays. The St. Monan’s
locomotive and Whittingham Asylum displays will bring focus on the history of mental health treatment in England, linking to our new aims to increase education on wellness and wellbeing in our collection. A new interactive exhibit on our TPO carriage will highlight the importance of communication and reaching out to others through writing."
He predicted that future work will help provide the opportunity for visitors to have a reflective and thought-provoking visit, which will also show how the museum's collection relates to both the world and to local history.
The museum is home to one of the largest industrial locomotive collections in the country and also details the history of Preston docks and the development of the first electric trains and Preston's part in the design and build of trains. It aims to provide a "full sensory experience of a working railway" and after learning more about the neighbouring former dockland visitors can step aboard a steam or diesel train to travel on the railway’s 1.5-mile dock and riverside line which crosses a swing bridge.
With the additional outdoor spaces, a platform extension in progress and a new turntable installed the railway's team is looking forward to welcoming visitors each Saturday. Visits have to be booked and after a few hiccups in the booking system since reopening on May 30 they are hoping that many more visitors will be booking tickets to ride in the future, pandemic permitting.
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