Can community railways support people through social prescribing?
Kamal R. Mahtani, Stephanie Tierney
18 January 2023
Oxford Social Prescribing Research Network leads Kamal Mahtani and Stephanie Tierney recently met Alayne McDonald from the Gloucestershire Community Rail Partnership to learn more about how community railways could support health and wellbeing.
Tell us about yourself.
I am Alayne McDonald, a Community Rail Development Officer with Gloucestershire Community Rail Partnership. I have a background working with people engaged in substance misuse. I am particularly interested in developing a pathway that links social prescribing with community rail and understanding if community rail can support link workers. Coming from a health and social care background, I have seen first-hand how transport barriers can prevent patients from accessing valuable activities and programmes.
What is Community Rail?
Community Rail is a growing grassroots movement comprised of community rail partnerships and local groups across Britain. They engage communities and help people to get the most from their railways, promoting social inclusion and sustainable travel, working alongside train operating companies to make improvements and bring stations back to life. Over 70 community rail partnerships throughout the country are part of a federation overseen by the Community Rail Network.
In 2020, Gloucestershire Community Rail Partnership (GCRP) was formally established as a Community Interest Company. We aim to make sustainable transport more inclusive and accessible for everyone. Over the last two years, we have had huge success engaging local communities with rail. We are increasingly focusing on how train travel and active modes of travel can support individuals’ health and wellbeing. Our ‘Movement’ pilot project engages young people aged 15-24 with rural and coastal experiences via rail that may have previously been out of reach. This project aims to improve social connectedness and enable young people to use public transport more confidently and independently.
Tell us more about the possible benefits of Community Rail.
Community rail partnerships are bringing communities together all over the country. We recognise that there is often a gap between transport industry partners and the local community. Our grassroots approach allows us to bridge this gap in a relevant and inclusive way by building meaningful partnerships with youth organisations, volunteers, aspiring artists, and a variety of professionals in four key programme areas:
- Youth and Education
- Leisure and Tourism
- Transport Planning
Taking a holistic approach to public transport means we can make meaningful change that meets the specific needs of local people. For example, our station adoption groups create warm and welcoming station environments through gardening work; it brings people together and connects them with the natural environment. Our trail maps inspire local adventure for individuals, groups and families, connecting people to the countryside and local businesses via rail, bus, walking and cycling. We also work with education providers and youth groups, giving young people a chance to explore new places while learning to travel sustainably and safely - skills which we believe are life-changing. This can be seen through our Movement and Getaway projects, where many of the young people we work with are from an area where 39% of families do not have access to a car, compared to the national average of 26%. This can lead to young people feeling unable to travel beyond their local areas to access education and employment opportunities. These projects inspire young people to become confident and independent travellers with access to new life opportunities. A quote from one young person who joined us for a train trip encapsulates the impact community rail can have:
“I'm scared of trains. I want to go on the train on my own when I'm older. But this is more comfortable in a group and with my friends.” – Year 9 Student
More information on the impact of our work can be found in our recent report.
What’s next for Community Rail?
Now, we are casting our sights on Oxfordshire, where we have been asked to formally complete a feasibility study to establish a community rail partnership. As part of this process, we are looking to consult with community organisations and providers to assess the local need and how a community rail partnership may be able to help. We would like to hear from professionals in the health and social care sector who can share a local perspective on the challenges facing Oxfordshire and any recommendations for how community rail may be able to provide support. We are seeking views until 31st January 2023 via our Oxfordshire stakeholder survey. It can be found here: https://survey.zohopublic.eu/zs/Z1DIGy
If you want to know more about Community Rail, please contact Alayne via email at: email@example.com
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this blog are those of the subject and do not necessarily reflect the views of the hosts, network or organisations mentioned.
Acknowledgement: Photo by Ankush Minda on Unsplash
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