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GWS adopts twin track approach to audience development

The Great Western Society (GWS) is set to embark on a programme of audience development in order to increase visitor numbers to their 21-acre Didcot Railway Centre (DRC) site, widen the access to the Society’s collection and extend the reach of its activities.

The plan will see the Centre’s ‘static days’ reimagined for the main 2020 season as ‘Discovery Days’ featuring improved site guides for adults and children, a higher profile for the interactive displays on site, and short talks to bring Museum artefacts to life or to highlight aspects of the history of locomotives housed in the original GWR Engine Shed.

The policy of making engines from the working fleet available to heritage railways when not required at Didcot will continue, as it has proved a very effective way of extending the Centre’s reach and making sure the locomotives are seen and enjoyed by the widest possible audience. In recent years, No. 6023 “King Edward II” has visited the Severn Valley, Torbay & Dartmouth and Gloucestershire & Warwickshire railways and was one of the stars of this year’s autumn gala at the North Yorkshire Moors Railway. 6023 is set to return to its Oxfordshire base this week along with 4144 which has completed a season-long visit to the Severn valley Railway.>

Following the success of these visits, the GWS has concluded that this is the best way to optimise access to its locomotives and will pursue this rather than attempting to run them on the main line which involves reducing the height of the cabs and fitting a considerable amount of non-original electronic equipment.

GWS Chairman, Richard Preston, commented, “Not only have we found that allowing locomotives to visit other heritage lines maximises the number of people that can enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of the locomotives in action, but they are also very accessible to our members and supporters in a way that we cannot achieve with main line running".

Financially, we have found that by hiring to other railways we can more reliably achieve the level of revenue we had hoped to earn from main line running, so this is undoubtedly the best route for us a responsible Charity looking to ensure a sustainable future for the items in our collection” he added.

With main line compatibility no longer a requirement, shed staff and volunteers at Didcot will work over the winter to refit the original cab to 6023 returning the locomotive to an authentic condition – an important consideration as DRC is an Arts Council England Accredited Museum.

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