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West Somerset Railway General Discussion

Discussion in 'Heritage Railways & Centres in the UK' started by gwr4090, Nov 15, 2007.

  1. Chris86

    Chris86 Well-Known Member

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    I suspect its because its easier to appeal for tangible targets.

    Please can we have some money?

    Appeals a lot less than;

    We need to replace xy or z to enable us to operate better/more safely in the long term as it is life expired or no longer fit for purpose.

    In a similar manner, look at the success of some of the funding drives by the 60163 folk (and others) to contribute to specific components.

    Chris
     
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  2. Matt37401

    Matt37401 Resident of Nat Pres

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    Your point being?
    I’m off to appeal for some cash from our customers shortly.
     
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  3. alexl102

    alexl102 Member

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    Yeah - as others have said, specific appeals for tangible, achievable targets. Not just ‘Sorry guys we’ve catastrophically mis-managed our money and assets for years and alienated loads of former supporters and partners; now we need a quick million quid, pls give us your cash’
     
  4. Lineisclear

    Lineisclear Member

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    Unfortunately many in the heritage railway movement have still to wake up to the scale of the financial threat to the sector and the change that will be needed in attitudes to fundraising. With cost increases in the hundreds of per cent (e.g. coal and electricity to name but two), and a forecast two year recession hitting disposable incomes it's increasingly clear that, for many, the traditional heritage railway business model no longer works. The viability of a model that assumes income from members, "free" volunteer labour supported by ticket revenue and secondary spend, can sustain heritage railways' future operations has been questionable for some time. The lockdown and now rampant cost inflation have pretty much decided the issue. Tinkering with fares and cost reductions is unlikely to achieve much even in the medium term. There are opportunities to respond but they require willingness to embrace change. In particular the movement will have to wean itself off the idea that appeals and donations are for just the "nice to have" shiny bits. Members and supporters will need to be prepared to donate to cover operating costs including mundane things like the electricity bill and, shock horror, even essential staff costs. If you can't generate enough of a surplus from operating to cover your costs then a donation towards those costs is potentially more valuable than one restricted to a purpose dear to the donor's heart. Donations for the day to day expenditure needed to keep a railway open need to become the new normal.
     
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  5. 35B

    35B Nat Pres stalwart

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    All true, but that will in turn pose a challenge for those railways to demonstrate effective control over their cost base - especially staff costs.
     
  6. Lineisclear

    Lineisclear Member

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    Happy to agree which is why I referred to essential staff costs. Trouble is that legal, regulatory and governance expectations can make that number higher than what is affordable.
     
  7. 35B

    35B Nat Pres stalwart

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    Sometimes, yes. But underlying assumptions about what can, and can not, be done by volunteers need to be critically examined.
     
  8. 30854

    30854 Resident of Nat Pres

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    Sorry to sound a pedantic note folks, but the terms 'volunteer (amateur)' and 'competent (certified)' aren't necessarily mutually exclusive.
     
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  9. 35B

    35B Nat Pres stalwart

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    Precisely my point - any volunteer organisation dependent on donations should be looking to maximise the role of volunteers in its operation, and constrain the use of paid staff to roles that cannot be fulfilled by volunteers. It is notable that @Lineisclear is a trustee at the railway with I believe the highest proportion of paid staff in it's workforce by a country mile.
     
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  10. Bayard

    Bayard Well-Known Member

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    All of which will mean that the level of scrutiny that the WSR's spending and other decisions has been subject to over the last few years will become the norm for all heritage railways and the reaction of the senior management to that level of scrutiny, basically, "buzz off, it's our railway, we will run it how we like" ,will become an unaffordable luxury. He who pays the piper calls the tune.
     
  11. D7076

    D7076 Well-Known Member

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    And that was before their policies in recent years
    has led to the loss of quite a few volunteers and goodwill from members who may have donated but fed up of the over sold Whitby half day
    park and ride model .
    Several comments on the latest Moorsline suggest next year will ,thankfully be different .Sadly 12 months plus too late .
     
  12. D1039

    D1039 Part of the furniture

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    To bring this back on thread, is there news (apologies if I’ve missed it) of what works the WSR is doing this winter; is there an ‘annual appeal’ and is it project specific; and is there likely to be pre-Easter running?

    I’d mention in passing the last news update on the WSR website is 1st September.

    Thanks
     
  13. Steve

    Steve Resident of Nat Pres Friend

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    Is the viability of a model that assumes income from supporters and free volunteer labour actually wrong? Most of todays heritage railways closed because they were unremunerative and those that sought to re-open them knew that, without supporters and volunteers they would continue to be so. Sadly, a growing number of railways are turning their back on that ethos and, strangely enough, are finding that it becomes a financial struggle. This is mainly the case with the larger railways, which seem to find it easier to employ people than keep their volunteers happy and content. There are still a good number of smaller lines that adhere to their founding principles of being a volunteer led and run organisation. As an example, the Middleton Railway is one. It is still an entirely volunteer run railway and in a good state of health, financially with about two years turnover in the bank and a sold out Santa season to look forward to. It has four operable steam locos (soon to be five) and no need for another one to come on stream until 2026. the overhaul of that one has recently started and the money is in the bank to cover it and the one after that when we decide which one it will be. Increased coal and other costs will have an effect but not nearly as much as an increasing wages bill would. Even coal costs won't hit in the short term as the railway was astute enough to realise coal prices would rise significantly and at the beginning of 2022 bought sufficient coal to last until at least August 2023. It would have bought more if it could have stored it.
    Look after your volunteers and supporters for without them, you will struggle.
     
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  14. Herald

    Herald Member

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    Well said. It might benefit the sector to realise that small and volunteer is generally flexible and has achieved much whilst big, commercial and expensive for a family day out is likely to struggle.
     
  15. 35B

    35B Nat Pres stalwart

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    I would be careful about such assertions - much depends on how those volunteers are sought and nurtured. For all that small can be flexible, it can also put unreasonable burdens on a few people and make the organisation very vulnerable to one person being unavailable.
     
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  16. 61624

    61624 Part of the furniture

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    An important factor in the success of such an approach will also to listen to and understand what motivates the railway's volunteers in the first place, and making them feel valued and and wanted - in other words giving back something in return, and I'm not sure that I'm seeing much of that, rather statements on the lines of "the charity commission will not allow us to do that". What really needs to be grasped is that most of what volunteers look for is a sense of satisfaction, and you can't put a monetary value on that.
     
  17. 30854

    30854 Resident of Nat Pres

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    Whilst I agree 100% with @Steve's "Look after your volunteers and supporters for without them, you will struggle", I don't believe there's ever been any 'one size fits all' solution to running heritage rail services. Even those lines where the basic service is in the hands of paid staff almost invariably benefit from the input of a "friends" or "supporters" organisation.

    If there's been one constant over the 72 years since the formation of the TRPS, it's been that flexibility and a willingness to adapt are powerful aids to survival. Hidebound thinking (and btw, that's not remotely the same as focused thinking), less so.
     
  18. 35B

    35B Nat Pres stalwart

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    Something that is true of all volunteer based organisations.
     
  19. Lineisclear

    Lineisclear Member

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    Trying to do this on my ipad and failing miserably! As suggested perhaps Steve hit the nail on the head when he observes that larger heritage railways tend to have higher proportion of paid staff. It’s not that they are dismissive of volunteers. Quite the opposite. For instance the NYMR as one of the largest is the only heritage railway to receive a substantial grant under the latest Arts Council England cultural awards due to a large extent because of its recent focus on the health, social and welfare benefits of volunteering.
    Nor is it an issue of competence. There are some incredibly competent volunteers out there. By and large getting volunteers for the glamour roles is not too much of a challenge ( So for instance the NYMR footplate is still 100% volunteer). The challenge, which becomes greater with the size of the operation, is back office and admin support roles. There are some amazing volunteers who do more than a full working week unpaid month after month. Steve will know some that I have in mind. However they tend to be the exception with most volunteers being part time. It’s well recognised that to get the same level of output/benefit as for one full time employee you probably need between five and seven part time volunteers. The problem then becomes consistency and continuity. The larger the organisation the more critical that can be. For instance a small railway with volunteers in double figures and a handful of paid staff could probably cope with functions like finance, HR , legal etc being provided by individual volunteers. With increased size those functions become more complicated and demanding but trying to manage them with multiple part time volunteers, who may have different ways of doing things, becomes a recipe for confusion and conflict. Whilst a small railway could probably manage a part time volunteer hr manager when they become larger they need an hr department applying consistent management.
    A higher proportion of paid staff is probably an inevitable consequence of the success of a heritage railway in growing the scale of its operations.
     
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  20. 30854

    30854 Resident of Nat Pres

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    I don't disagree, but had kept the hoary old chestnut about how to end up with a small fortune from running a railway firmly in mind when I mentioned those lines operated by paid staff.

    I had in mind both the nationalised IMR, plus the fully commercial Brecon Mountain and Vale of Rheidol Railways, where the basics are supplemented by the "bells and whistles", such as matters of presentation, publicity etc. e.g. (gratuitous plug for) Engine Shed tours on the IMR and Port Erin Museum on same.

    (Uncertain whether the Snowdon Mountain or Great Orme enjoy any voluntary support)
     

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