In the first of a new feature series focusing on volunteering, Gareth Evans shares his experience of his first day learning to drive a diesel locomotive at Cambrian Heritage Railways and also reflects on his 28 years of supporting heritage lines in a practical sense as a volunteer.
Volunteers are becoming thin on the ground at heritage lines across the British Isles. Even railways which have historically been shining examples of best practice in terms of recruiting and retaining staff have been reporting shortages this year.
What’s changed? Nobody appears to know for certain. Anecdotal evidence suggests students, who now have to pay approximately £9000 per annum in fees, have to spend their holidays in paid employment, rather than enjoying themselves, which may have historically included volunteering on their favourite heritage line(s).
At the opposite end of the age spectrum, the other group which has traditionally provided a core railway volunteer workforce – retirees – have been impacted by the need for people to work longer, retiring later in life. Put another way, the ‘golden age’ of stepping back from their working lives in their fifties is now the stuff of dreams for many.
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For those of us ‘in the middle’ of the age spectrum, there is the unwelcome threat of fuel prices beginning to creep back up again, impacting on the cost of travelling to our chosen heritage line(s), combined with the pressures of modern life, such as the need to commit even more hours to our employment on top of the paid ‘core hours’, adding to the tiredness and stresses of work.
Of course, volunteering can be a valuable aid to balance out the stresses of life, being therapeutic by providing a positive focus and a social environment essential for our physical and mental well-being.
As a magazine at the heart of the sector each of us loves, we at Heritage Railway want to do our bit. Therefore, we’re starting this Volunteer’s Blog column and welcome your input to write one for us – and we also want you to share your thoughts with us more generally – see panels (left).
Believing in practising what I preach, I thought it was time to share my experiences in the hope of inspiring others to get their hands dirty and perhaps to put fingers to keyboard.
Read more and view more images in Issue 247 of HR – on sale now!