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Will there be enough volunteers for preserved railways in a few decades time ?

Discussion in 'Heritage Railways & Centres in the UK' started by toplight, Aug 18, 2017.

  1. michaelh

    michaelh Well-Known Member

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  2. Charles Parry

    Charles Parry New Member

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    Apologies. Autocorrect and a couple of ciders. Deputise a diesel was what I meant, will correct.
     
  3. Leafent

    Leafent New Member

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    Finding Volunteers to stand around on platforms and sell tea isn't really going to be a problem, and Footplate crews, signalmen and guards are all relatively positive areas. Where problems are going to occur is finding people prepared to repair track in the middle of winter, repair railway locomotives and coaches, and I think preserved railways should focus on training volunteer fitters, welders, machinists, etc.
     
  4. Herald

    Herald Member

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    One wonders if anybody actually tracks volunteer trends at a movement wide level. There are many posts on here about particular lines and centres and several comments about people passing one centre whilst travelling to another. Could it be that many volunteers are in fact gravitating to fewer places where they feel their efforts will be worthwhile in the long term? BRC has dual threats from HS2 which passes through the overspill car park (events) field and the imminent upgrading of the remaining Network Rail line through the centre of the site for fast services between Aylesbury and Milton Keynes meanwhile Leighton Buzzard has lost much of its rural charm as the town's housing estates expand. As an area with a multiplicity of alternative railways at which to volunteer are people leaving, not starting or simply going elsewhere?

    The movement has generally been slow to value the welfare of volunteers where it may be competing with other centres (National Trust, Local Museums etc. some of whom even pay travel expenses or offer other "carrots" to attract them.

    One suspects that the heritage movement may actually copy the history of railways with many centres and lines opened during a sort of heritage mania period not having sustainable futures. Is there a heritage Beeching waiting in the wings?

    Whilst it may be unpleasant for enthusiasts to see lines close in truth it might be better to have a smaller number of long term successes rather than a larger number all struggling to survive. The public perception of the overall product is tarnished by any badly presented operation and if any operations are suspended following accidents and or regulatory interventions the negative impact of increased insurance premiums etc. may create closures elsewhere which might have been avoided by attaining high standards in all operations.

    There is probably no magic bullet but ample evidence across many threads on here that good management succeeds and attracts people whilst a lack of clear objectives, factionalism and poorly joined up thinking (one Railway anyone?) does the reverse.
     
  5. Ruston906

    Ruston906 New Member

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    The problem has two sides paid staff are not always the solution because as there numbers increase you end up needing HR departments to manage the staff and all the issue and also the cost of there wages eating into any surplus that the railway makes.
     
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  6. Monkey Magic

    Monkey Magic Part of the furniture

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    It is interesting that we talk about family connections to the railways and yet we forget that many windrush generation migrants came and worked on the railways. There is I think an interesting story to be told, a useful way to connect heritage railways with academics, communities and families.

    i’d really love to see a railway engage with black history month.

    And also sadly, agree about homophobia, when I volunteered, one of the paid staff was openly gay and I have never seenand heard so much homophobia in my life. Whether it was because this railway seemed to bring out the worst kind of macho attitudes I have no idea, but it was not the sort of place you would want to be out.
     
  7. martin1656

    martin1656 Resident of Nat Pres Friend

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    As always its in the hands of each of every heritage railway. to ensure each has the right plan to ensure they attract staff and retain them, and that skills are passed on, that has to be fully understood, that its essential that these skills don't die with the tradesman, and why is it some railways can't seem to get it right?
     
  8. 21B

    21B Well-Known Member

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    Because in the context of relatively under-resourced organisations that are primarily focused on the preservation of assets, it is very hard to create and drive a strategy on the preservation of skills and the recruitment, training and retention of staff. Heritage Railways are (as a generalisation) under managed, meaning they have fewer managerial activities being undertaken than are really needed. It isnt only about money, but recruitment and retention means having the right skills being employed (volunteer or paid) just as much as carpentry or metalwork, but the latter generally win out.
     
  9. Chuffington

    Chuffington New Member

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    I think Steam Railways have gone on from what the original scope of saving and preserving it in original form to just being tourist attraction, thus leaving members at odds with management, members who want keep everything original, management who just want to run trains by the cheapest means possible, which just puts members off thus increasing the need for staff which puts more pressure to run as cheaply as possible which in turn puts customers off thus creating a viscus circle.
    Also looking at demographics anyone who is below 50 now will probably only be able to afford to retire at 70, if they are in an industrial environment they will worn out, if they fly a computer they could offer something but are probably not used to the industrial environment, so creating another viscus circle!
     
  10. paulhitch

    paulhitch Guest

    I am not sure you are quite right here. Being a "tourist attraction" produces the money which keeps these places going and things such as catering and sales subsidise unprofitable operation. They are a necessary compromise. Pressures to turn rural branch lines into ersatz main lines come less, I fear, from "wicked management" as from memberships who ought to know better.

    PH
     
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  11. JayDee

    JayDee Member

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    The thing is though that in reality Steam Railways were never really about "preservation" per se. They were more about retention, be it of services or items of locomotives and rolling stock. Just look at how quickly the Tallylyn went from being saved to running locomotives from a different railway within it's first year! We've gone from "save everything that moved" on to how to best present this to the public. The theatrics are what turns it into a tourist attraction and whether you gripe about it or not, it's certainly better than the alternatives, which is no trains running at all.

    Management of volunteers is the difficulty and recruitment and retention is key. Younger volunteers are harder to get, this is true. Which is why youth groups and other ideas need to be tried, or applied, wider. The SKLR, for example, gets their younger volunteers to commit to just one weekend day a month, which is do-able.

    That being said, a number of sites I can think of are either already in the death spiral, or about to circle the drain, you can read about places with little in the way of volunteers as recruitment is non-existent, or the funding is steadily drying up. I feel those places will either vanish entirely, or re-purpose themselves, not as public sites, but more private storage and restoration areas, and that's if they're lucky.
     
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  12. 35B

    35B Resident of Nat Pres

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    One day per month is a good idea, but still needs to be recognised as a significant commitment for those with family and/or involved in other non railway volunteering.


    Sent from my iPad using Tapatalk
     
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  13. Reading General

    Reading General Well-Known Member

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    I believe some railways are caught in a trap where to survive they move further and further away from the reason they were set up and become increasingly businesses . In the meantime others exist which are clearly just hobby sites (nothing wrong with that) and will never do more than live hand to mouth.
    I think the Public don't really understand that major tourist attractions can be "voluntary" and visitors to the first category are entitled to expect a level of service and professionalism that they don't always get.
    I did wonder what Joe Public would make of a fairly large well established line I visited last week who had donation envelopes at every seat for maintaining the coaching stock without explaining the "voluntary" nature of the line. Some will have found that very odd, and I think some Railways need to step back and look at how they operate and which category they want to be in and what they are trying to achieve.
     
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  14. Monkey Magic

    Monkey Magic Part of the furniture

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    I don't think it is unusual for there to be tensions between different groups. If you look at the FR there were those for whom it was 'jgf', for others for whom they were interested in building the Deviation but less interested in running trains, and then you have local staff (in an area of high unemployment and tensions between locals and incomers). There are going to be people who are going to be interested in a specific thing - ie wagon groups, some railways may develop a critical mass that enables them to progress, while others don't. There are people who have a pet project but maybe aren't interested in working on the monday of October half term to ensure that the ticket office, buffet etc are staffed.

    I think some railways have become complacent - that their name is enough, some have embraced a billion other schemes to get people through the doors, (which then induces cries of selling out from hardcore activists). You have lines like Dartmoor as well.

    At the same time, there will always be new schemes because in part - that is something that does attract people, there will be people who want to rebuild some of the S&D, or the Cambrian.

    There are also a lot of 'difficult' people involved in railway preservation, lots of 'You don't want to do that' happy to tell people how to do things and often inclined to pick up their ball and go home when they don't get their way. This also drives away people who are perhaps just happy to go with the flow

    A final question - has any research been done on whether there are any long term benefits of things like Thomas/Peppa etc in getting those very young children involved with railways? One of the assumptions was that this would get children interested initially and then they would come back, and presumably then become volunteers (but I wonder if anyone volunteering would admit to having been enticed into railways by Thomas?)
     
  15. Herald

    Herald Member

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    I'm sure many members of the public fully understand that most museums and organisations such as the National Trust rely heavily on volunteers and secondary fund raising to sustain operations. Whether such organisations properly understand visitor and potential volunteer motivations for attending or adequately engage with volunteers and visitors before making managerial decisions is another matter.
     
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  16. 35B

    35B Resident of Nat Pres

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    I am equally certain that many visitors do NOT realise that organisations like preserved railways or the National Trust are charities, and that they are reliant on volunteers. And from personal experience, they then judge such places and organisations by the standards applicable to businesses with a fully employed workforce.
     
  17. misspentyouth62

    misspentyouth62 Member

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    I was having a friendly conversation with a chap at Didcot recently and he was showing me the latest bringing-together of the Saint Class in the workshops. We discussed the merits of having lots of ambition to restore and build new classes of locomotive but also how thinly the few volunteers would be spread in trying to do so much of the graft. The average ages of those on site on this non-working day were let's say, retirement age with concern that it is getting much harder to find younger volunteers who are not retiring as early as they had done in the past. With pension scheme erosion we shared the view that we would perhaps be better off focusing on finishing something already started before starting something new - the Churchward County 4-4-0 was topical point on the day.
     
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  18. JayDee

    JayDee Member

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    I think you bring up a point without realising.

    Railways are and were business ventures. These lines were not built by the victorians and others "for a lark". They existed to fulfil a business purpose. Usually to tap into resources, or offer up new routes to move said resources (while also exploiting any resources in the locality as well) but not many of these lines ever existed on the basis of "it'd be funny if we had one of them too."

    Even the volunteers, most of us go along because we like the fantasy of being a railwayman of some stripe. We all secretly want to be a railway employee.

    This would also be why the "premier league" of lines actually work very, very well. They've tapped partially back into the very reason these lines were built in the first place. The model has most certainly changed with the aim being families and people rather than goods and services, but it also clearly works. Lines that at least have more of a business thinking seem to be doing far better and actually have the resources to do more.

    Happy to admit it, in fact I still have my copy of "Henry Goes to the Hospital" signed by Christopher Awdry. I think some of the moves by the people making the TV show to be a bit more inclusive helps and its now on the onus on the railways to push to find stuff for people to do, and to harness that enthusiasm. I know that there's an active effort to get at least 2 full train crews made up only of women at the Statfold Barn Railway.

    As for the "difficult people".... well, they're not going to be around forever, are they? I readily admit I was driven away from volunteering at one point because of said difficult people. I now do some volunteering again and said difficult people... some're not about any more.
     
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  19. Herald

    Herald Member

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    Surely when taking money off visitors those visitors have a right to expect professional and excellent service irrespective of the employment status of the person providing the service. The better operations realise this and invest in training all of the staff and setting standards accordingly with motivated volunteers often showing an enthusiasm and/or depth of knowledge often lacking in paid staff. As for the charity aspect with many asking visitors to "gift aid" admission at least whoever pays the admission will realise.
     
  20. 35B

    35B Resident of Nat Pres

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    Quite
     

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