Rose Hill Station, at our latest Awards Evening, was named Cheshire’s Best Kept Station 2019, so they have every right to astound themselves.
Rachel Singer, the Chair of the Friends of Rose Hill Station, reflects on the past ….
While we can’t get to work at our stations just now, maybe reflecting on achievements so far will comfort and soothe us and energise us in looking forward to the time when we can spring back into activity.
The Friends of Rose Hill Station were just saying they needed a rest after a period of fairly full-on activity – but we didn’t mean All This (as the current situation is designated).
Formed as a group in 2009, we launched into building sleeper beds, cultivating a scrubby looking bank then used as a shortcut to and from the station carpark and learning to Tweet persistently about late running and cancelled trains which were, at that time, a regular feature of the service to our station. As the only remaining stop on our branch line (once upon a time the line ran to Macclesfield, more of that later), we interpreted that we were a default option when there was a shortage of drivers or units. It is one of our successes that this is no longer the case.
Like so many Friends groups, we have a small number of active members, 8 – 10, most of whom have reached retirement age. After all, who else (in the normal course of things) has time?
Several years into our efforts, community orchard, help-yourself herb bed and waiting room book swap established and Santa’s annual visit a fixture in Marple’s winter calendar, we set our gaze on the profoundly unattractive concrete wall at the back of the station carpark and thought about how nice it would be to cheer it up with some art work.
Our initial search for artistic partners came to nothing.
Sadly, we accepted that the local high school felt unable to work on-site. We sent a message to a local community artist with our hopes for improving the area. She was busy with another project at the time.
Meanwhile, the rail history enthusiasts within our group alerted us – in good time – (three years warning but doesn’t time roll by quickly when you think you have plenty of it) to the 150th anniversary of the opening of our line – to Macclesfield – in August 2019. We committed ourselves to suitable celebrations and began some exploratory contacts.
Then, just at the same time, our artist became available and got in touch with us. Tracy McGuinness-Kelly of ArtStop has worked with a number of community groups and schools and came to us with a fund of ideas and a wealth of local contacts. The notion of a mural consisting of individual pieces of art created by people from across the whole of our local community and across the whole age range began to take shape. Tracy had access to wooden discs, off cuts from a speaker company, on which each piece of art would be painted. We were joined and supported by another artist, a local resident and user and supporter of our station, Adetoro Adeniran-Kane, who helped us realise the potential of the project to become a permanent and meaningful contribution to our community.
We were excited but it also dawned on us that we would not simply sit back and wait for the art work to appear. We were going to be busy – and busy we were! Application to the Awards for All Lottery Fund, accounting system set up, monthly project management meetings, realisation that we couldn’t drill holes to fix over 300 discs directly to the concrete without reducing it to a state of perforation and we would have to design and fund a hanging system. And we would need to create a path from which people could view the 25 metre long mural. Alongside this engineering work came turning the community and intergenerational aspects of the project into a reality. This meant involving our contributors with us and with each other. We ran 3 workshops, themed for people’s memories and use of our station and rail route, the history of Marple and, finally, people’s experience of making their art and being part of the wider project.
We developed unexpected skills for juggling tasks and following up innumerable questions: How much do we have left in the hospitality fund? Have we had the quotation for laying out the path? Will this design for wrought iron brackets be strong enough to hang marine ply panels from the fence? Where can we hire a battery operated speaker and microphone? Is it time to begin the selection of pictures? How many people might come to our workshop? How many sandwiches do we need? Is the publicity banner ready? And so on…
By September 2018 completed panels were accumulating, workshops had begun, we were deciding on a date for unveiling – and it was time to accelerate contact with villages at the former station stops along the line to Macclesfield. Only 11 months now until our 150th anniversary. Another big project, planning overlapping, more meetings and more fund raising!
This is the moment in this trip down memory lane to acknowledge the wholehearted support, personal, practical and financial, we have had from Northern throughout our project planning and delivery and similarly from Transport for Greater Manchester and the South East Manchester Community Rail Partnership, with additional funding from Cross Country trains.
The former railway line is now a 10 mile long nature route, well used for walking and running, cycling and horse-riding, the Middlewood Way.
The railway transported coal, agricultural goods and then passengers. We planned events to celebrate the line and, in so doing, we renewed awareness of the social and industrial history along its route.
Working with community groups around the former stations, and with the invaluable help of railway historian Basil Jeuda, our celebrations saw a photograph and artefacts display exhibited in libraries in Bollington, then Marple, then Macclesfield; commemorative plaques unveiled by the local Mayors at the former stations and at Rose Hill; a cycle ride and a guided walk along the route with replica old style train tickets sold and punched at each of the ‘stations’, with refreshments at some; and with some of the stations newly visible with old platforms cleared, new picnic benches and ‘old style’ replica station running in boards installed.
At Rose Hill, we also unveiled a newly restored North Staffordshire Railway bench and we were thrilled to have one of our local supporters read her poem written for our anniversary.
The organisers of the prestigious Bollington Festival acted on our highlighting of the anniversary to take the railway as the theme for the May 2019 festival and our own events followed in July 2019 – a few weeks before the actual anniversary date of 2nd August (thus avoiding the school holidays).
Alongside the preparation and planning for all this, came the physical work of installing the mural and the grand unveiling in November 2018 – a day of bright sunshine and a crowd of 250 -300 people came to celebrate and proudly show their art work to friends and family. In December. despite Saturday rail strikes, Santa arrived and his new day of the Monday before Christmas proved very popular. In January our final workshop elicited testimony of the positive impact to many people’s sense of self worth and mental well being which being part of the mural project brought and left us with a sense of humility and pride at what had been achieved.
But quickly on with the 150 tasks. And the spring gardening. And the passenger count. And our contributions to consultations about the rail service, taking every opportunity we can to lobby for an improved timetable to Rose Hill – we remain the only line in Greater Manchester with trains into the city without any Sunday service and with the last train home leaving Piccadilly at 21.09.
Autumn 2019, so much achieved; we agreed we deserved a rest.
But … January 5th 2020 saw the 50th anniversary of the closure of our line beyond Rose Hill. ‘Why would we celebrate that?’ was the cry. But we didn’t want to let the moment pass unnoticed so a plaque was commissioned, cakes and mulled wine supplied and we were gratified that around 50 people came to share the moment with us.
We were thrilled to win a category award for the mural project at the ACORP (now Community Rail Network) awards in October 2019 and that our efforts overall led us to win the accolade of Cheshire Best Kept Station in February 2020.
We reflected on what we had achieved with the realisation that we really can aim high and think of ourselves as more than ‘just’ gardeners. But certainly the gardens will remain a key feature of our efforts, they have been transformative in making our station a welcoming place to arrive at.
And now… we are pleased that, for the moment, the gardens are looking well. There will be lots to do when we can get back there but we can celebrate the established Spring colour.
We can’t pursue our campaigning – we fully understand that priorities have to be elsewhere just now – but we are ready to make the case again for a full timetable and for an improved route between our station and the Middlewood Way.
Our historical information boards are waiting to be put in place and, on the evidence of the past, I am fully confident that our group will be bursting with ideas for future projects to continue Rose Hill Station’s contribution to the local community.
We are looking forward to further surprising ourselves with what a small group can achieve when they put their minds to it!