What we do

Our activity is shaped around four core pillars set out in the Department for Transport’s Strategy for Community Rail:

  • providing a voice for the community
  • promoting sustainable, healthy and accessible travel
  • bringing communities together and supporting diversity and inclusion
  • supporting social and economic development

Community Engagement

We strive to develop the role communities play in shaping their railway, and the role the railway has in supporting the communities it serves.

Until 2017, the platforms at Avonmouth station presented a dismal impression for those either alighting from Severn Beach bound trains or waiting for trains to Bristol.  Industrial dereliction dominated the view, and the anti-social use the derelict land at the rear of the platform caused anxiety to waiting passengers and was a deterrent to using the station.  As the railhead for the Avonmouth-Severn Beach Enterprise Area, the station previously gave a very unfavourable impression to workers, visitors and potential developers.

Community consultation provided the Partnership with a clear steer of what local people wanted from their station, and proposals put together to achieve a much more welcoming, attractive and safer station which would encourage more passengers.

The improvements have included a new shelter (located to provide cover for arriving passengers waiting for the level crossing barriers to be raised), seating, lighting, planters and screen fencing. They have been funded and supported by Bristol City Council, the Association of Community Rail Partnerships, Severnside Community Rail Partnership. Great Western Railway and Network Rail, with considerable assistance from the volunteer Champions of Avonmouth Station, Incredible Edible Bristol and Probation Service Community Payback.  The is now covered by a comprehensive CCTV system and new secure cycle parking facilities are to be installed during the summer of 2022.

Hidden away behind the fence on Platform 1 is the  ‘Secret Garden’ food growing scheme.  Developed by the team at Incredible Bristol the garden produces food for the weekly soup and lunch  clubs  nearby Avonmouth Community Centre.  The garden is open each week for ‘Wellbeing Wednesday’ sessions.  Pop your head round the gate to find it is possible to grow apricots in Avonmouth! See https://youtu.be/AplCnGo9C4M

Beneath the canopy on Platform 2 are two spectacular pieces of community art.  The ‘City to Seaside’ photographs were taken by school children as part of scheme funded by the Arts Council England .  A second mural by Rob and Sophie Weaver pays homage to the rare birds seen along the Severn Estuary was created under funding from ‘A Forgotten Landscape’ Heritage Lottery Funding.

The Severnside Community Rail Partnership is proud to support station adoption groups across the region who form part of a family of over 1,000 groups nationwide caring for their stations on a voluntary basis.  Adopters ensure their stations provide an attractive, fit for purpose gateway to their local communities.  This is typically achieved though planting and art schemes, linking with wider community events, and by volunteers becoming the ‘eyes and ears’ of their local station.

One of the more recently formed station adoption groups is the Friends of Parson Street Station, a dedicated team of volunteers living close to the station, and who are collectively involved with a number of local community initiatives.  In just a short period of time the group has made great strides. Under a grant from the GWR Customer and Communities Improvement Fund. new planters have been installed at street level and these along with existing platform level planters are tended throughout the seasons to providing a combination of cheerful flowers and some edible produce.  An impressive heritage board has been unveiled, station lighting improved and new signage installed directing passengers to the nearby Ashton Gate stadium.

At the beginning of 2020 the Friends of Parson Street station started working with Monica Wills House, a local residential care home, and Parson Street Primary School on the ‘Secret Gardens’ intergenerational project.  Although the project plan was stalled when lockdown started, they kept a new version going by working individually and from a distance with the residential home, and by finding local foster families for the majority of the plants. This enabled some community grown plants to reach the platform planters.  Sadly, events of 2020 meant they could not bring the generations together as intended, nor involve the community in the planting exercise, however it is hoped this can become a reality in the future.

There was cause for celebration when the efforts of the group were rewarded by reaching the shortlist for three categories of the 2020 Community Rail Awards;  the Secret Gardens project in the small projects category, the heritage plaque in the Smaller and Renewable Art Schemes category and achieving Bronze level in the ‘It’s Your Station Award’.

The group shares the aspiration of local rail stakeholders wishing to see the station become fully accessible to all passengers, and would- be consultees in a feasibility study the West of England Combined Authority is currently undertaking into step free access to stations across their area.

In 2006,  Severnside Community Rail Partnership was approached by the Probation Service to establish whether offenders handed a community sentence by the courts might be able to assist with projects to improve and enhance local railway stations.  An innovative partnership between the two organisations was forged, and fifteen years later local stations, and the communities they serve, continue to benefit from the scheme.

Around 1400 hours of are spent at stations each year, making the scheme of great value to both the rail industry and the communities each station serves.  That is a staggering 21,000 hours of unpaid work spent on projects to enhance local stations.

Under a community sentence, offenders of certain crimes  undertake between 40 and 300 hours of Community Payback. This activity is unpaid and should be demanding and designed to give something to local communities, providing  offenders with an opportunity to repay the community for the wrong they have done.   Offenders assigned to station projects are classified as being low risk to the public.

During the early days of the Partnership, many local stations were in a poor condition; supervised groups of around ten offenders were deployed on an ad-hoc basis to clear overgrown vegetation and construct planters from old railway sleepers. The planters were then handed over to be tended by local volunteers and station adoption groups.

Once stations became in a much better condition, and required less heavy vegetation clearance, more emphasis was placed on environmental enhancement and on improving and ensuring safe working practices.   Severnside Community Rail Partnership and local station management teams now agree programme of activity for up to four offenders to visit local stations and assist with enhancing the environment.  Their tasks include implementing biodiversity measure such as ground preparation, sustainable planting, weeding and watering planters.  Community Payback groups have recently assisted with the construction of planters and garden furniture, painting railings and the removal of graffiti.

Smaller group numbers allow greater opportunities for offenders to learn new skills during their placement, supporting their personal development and increasing opportunities for future employment.

On completion of a placement at the Avonmouth station ‘Secret Garden’, one service user commented ‘This project has given me a connection to the community and a space that I am proud to be a part of.’

The  participants on the Unpaid Work teams have been sentenced in Court to a number of hours that must be worked for the benefit of local communities.  Severnside Community Rail has provided opportunities for people on probation to complete a variety of tasks, offering the possibility to learn new skills that will improve chances of employment and reduce re-offending.

The initial concept of On Train Events came about slightly by chance.

The Elizabeth Blackwell Institute for Health Research at the University of Bristol adopted Fun Palaces – an international campaign for culture at the heart of every community, –for it’s community engagement for 2017,  employing a Fun Palaces Ambassador to initiate health inspired events across the weekend of 6th & 7th October in collaboration with Bristol Green Capital Partnership’s Healthy City Week, and community partners.  During Fun Palaces weekend, an on-train arts workshop was hosted on the train between Bristol Temple Meads and Avonmouth station.  The event workshop was designed to raise awareness of 1 in 4 people experiencing mental health challenges.   It was a great success, drawing a diverse mix of participants, some travelling specifically for the event, others being passengers who became involved during their journey.  Those taking part practiced creative skills and engaged in stimulating discussion.  Feedback was very positive and the message received by Severnside CRP was unanimously “we want more events like this on the train!” See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ORp846ckqDQ&t=10s

Following Fun Palaces, a number of events promoting local community causes and brining communities to the rail service who would not have otherwise tried the train.  These have included:

A Human Library – In line with the international scheme designed to challenge prejudice against social contact among diverse groups, local volunteers became human books, lending themselves out to passengers for conversations about their chosen subject during the journey.  Undoubtedly the major draw from the eclectic catalogue were popular Bristolian stars of Channel 4 Goggelbox Mary and Marina who raised many a smile sharing their knowledge of local history with characteristic cheek;  Darren Jones MP and Robot Engineer Steve Bullcok were also in high demand.

Crimestoppers CommuniTea – The first of many CommuniTea events taking place across the country between May and July 2018 to mark the charity’s 30th anniversary; the first time a cl166 turbo serving the Severn Beach line was all dressed up for afternoon tea.

Singing for the Brain on the Train – As part of Dementia Action Week 2018 an extra special Singing for the Brain session on the Severn Beach Branch line. The event attracted more than 40 people affected by dementia. Many hadn’t travelled by train for years and they’d certainly never sung on the train.

Games on the Train – Conversation is central to on train events.  It is widely recognised people find one-to-one conversations far easier when travelling, be it on foot or in a vehicle.  It is noticeable how participants appreciate the opportunity to come on board and have someone to talk to for the duration their short journey and by doing so reduce any feelings of isolation. Games on the train is now a regular feature where elderly and isolated participants come on board to play bingo and enjoy tea and chat.  See https://youtu.be/pzwv5HUgrbo

Drag Queen Bingo – A more flamboyant version of Games on the Train was held to celebrate Bristol Pride in 2019 featuring popular local drag queens Dominque Fleek and Carmen Monoxide.  See https://youtu.be/Wf4FLVqWPXQ

Suffrage Celebrations – A lantern making workshop run by Bristol Women’s as part of a series of events to mark the struggle of Bristol suffragettes.  Lanterns created on the train were carried on a lantern parade through the city centre to celebrate 100 years since the first women were allowed to vote in the UK.

The Partnership is keen to support local, independent business based on and around our stations.  One initiative to link with Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) to sponsor the display of posters at stations advertising local shops and places to eat and drink.

The poster below was created to in collaboration with Bedminster BID is proudly displayed in an illuminated poster case at Bedminster station, directing passengers to the array of independent shops, cafes and restaurants in the surrounding streets.