Heart of England CRP 1

“The railways are more than tracks and trains. They’re about the connections people make.”

Julia Singleton-Tasker from Heart of England CRP explains how Avanti's support allows the railway to offer many opportunities.  

Wednesday 22 May 2024

Julia Singleton-Tasker from Heart of England Community Rail Partnership explains how Avanti West Coast’s support allows the railway to offer so much more to people and places than a means of transport.

Too often the railways are seen as a functional form of transport. We forget that feeling of adventure that travelling by train can give. Community Rail is a chance to connect people with others, as well as beautiful places. It can also bring people together through a shared experience, such as volunteering at a station or discovering something new.

Julia Singleton Tasker

The theme of this year’s Community Rail Week (20 – 26 May) is ‘More than a railway’. This is a chance to highlight what our railways bring to people and places beyond travelling to and from work or the occasional day out. At Heart of England Community Rail Partnership (CRP) we want to deliver benefits for the communities we serve and thanks to the support of the rail industry, including Avanti West Coast, we’re able to do that.   

At Heart of England CRP, we have four strands of activity – Education; Station and Neighbourhood Enhancements; Inclusivity and Community Links; Sustainability – designed to make a difference to local people and places. We serve a wide area with diverse communities that have different needs, so the strands enable people to understand the focus of our work and how they could get involved.

The railways are more than tracks and trains. They’re about the connections people make through them and how they influence local communities.

Heart of England CRP 3

"Stations can feel like very functional places that people pass through, but they offer so much more. They’re the first glimpse of the area they serve and can provide visitors with a real sense of place as soon as they step off the train."


A lot of our work also focuses on helping people overcome barriers to rail travel. Our Creative Platforms project saw us work with Coventry and Warwickshire Mind, as well as local artists to create a toolkit of artistic techniques for people to learn how to ground themselves when they experience feelings of anxiousness about rail travel.

Working with Coventry Refugee and Migrant Centre and physical theatre company, Highly Sprung, to deliver rail familiarisation workshops to newly arrived families will always stay with me – seeing families connect with each other and explore a new area was brilliant. To have the privilege of seeing the joy on people’s faces when they go on a train for the first time is something very special.

Stations can feel like very functional places that people pass through, but they offer so much more. They’re the first glimpse of the area they serve and can provide visitors with a real sense of place as soon as they step off the train. They also offer the chance for people to connect with others through schemes such as station adoption.

Heart of England CRP 4

I like to think that the biggest benefit we’ve brought local communities over the last five years is the realisation of how many opportunities the railway holds. We’ve delivered artwork to brighten up stations that also reflect local communities.

Station adopters who are from the Life Path Trust – a local charity that supports people with learning disabilities and autistic people – created artwork at Coventry. The recently unveiled Rugby Colour Palette – a large-scale piece of art that promotes the character of the town – is based on ideas submitted by residents.  

We encourage sustainable and active travel with our Rail Trails – 36 walking routes that are designed to enable communities to use the railway to access and explore their local area.

We’ve involved young people with the railway – from STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths) workshops to rail safety talks, taking the train for days out, as part of Avanti West Coast’s Feel Good Field Trips initiative, and site visits.

Heart of England CRP 2

Support from the rail industry is essential. There is now a greater appreciation of the importance of bringing the railway and community together. Collaborating on projects not only enables railway workers in different roles from marketing to engineers and guards to give back to their community, it also offers them the opportunity to share their love for the industry and inspire others to consider a career in rail.  

I love the passion from staff to make a positive difference. They care about the people who use the railway, and the partners they work with.

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Without funding from Avanti West Coast our capacity to work on projects would be very limited. It’s vital for staffing the CRP and ensuring we can deliver projects and initiatives to the communities that need them most.

Equally important is the support from the station teams who bring warmth and friendliness – making our groups feel a part of the railway family. Avanti West Coast’s Community Manager and Community Champions also go above and beyond to facilitate our projects – their support and enthusiasm is great!

To mark Community Rail Week, we’ll once again bring to life that theme of ‘More than a railway’ by taking a group of asylum seekers by train from Solihull to Coventry to build their confidence navigating stations, learn how to buy tickets and read timetables, before enjoying a guided walking tour based on one of our 36 Rail Trails to discover historic Coventry.

Main image (left to right): Sarah Sheldon (Avanti West Coast Station Manager at Rugby), Stacey Barnfield, Cllr Maggie O'Rourke (Mayor of Rugby), Julia Singleton-Tasker (Heart of England CRP), Sarah Annis (Ruby Red) and Marlon Golding (Team Leader at Rugby Station). 

Images (top to bottom): Julia Singleton-Tasker of Heart of England CRP); Mural at Birmingham International created by Heart of England CRP in association with Brink Contemporary Arts to mark the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games; The Rugby Colour Palette art installation at Rugby station; Riverside Academy pupils take part in an immersive art workshop at Rugby station; Pupils from KESH Academy in Birmingham at Herbert Gallery in Coventry, as part of an Avanti West Coast Feel Good Field Trip.