Our Diamond Jubilee Fund was launched to Great Western Society members in the October 2020 edition of our house magazine, the Great Western Echo. The article is reproduced here.
As our 60th Anniversary draws near, there will inevitably be a degree of reminiscing and reflection but Head of Visitor Experience & Marketing, Graham Hukins, believes that alongside the nostalgia we should be forward-thinking and use our special year to lay the foundations for decades to come. Here, he reveals the latest thinking from the Senior Management Team and ways that you can play your part . . .
The Society’s 60th Anniversary in 2021 will be a time to celebrate the achievements of the last six decades; a number of events are being planned and, no doubt, forthcoming editions of the Echo will recall some of the pioneering spirit, subsequent tenacity and ongoing passion that has made Didcot synonymous with delivering bold preservation projects that keep the spirit of the Great Western Railway alive.
But it is important that during our Diamond Anniversary, we don’t just look back; the occasion should also be seen a springboard from which we can shape the future and take further steps to ensure the GWS and Didcot Railway Centre have a healthy, sustainable and bright future. Just as the original Great Western Railway adapted throughout its history, we need to innovate and adjust to stay relevant in the 21st Century and to welcome and engage new audiences.
The award-winning new build ‘Saint’ class 4-6-0 demonstrates the dawn of modem steam locomotive design. (Adrian Knowles) Didcot Railway Centre’s two running lines achieve the remarkable feat of re-creating the GWR travel experience within the confines of the 21-acre engine shed site. (Frank Dumbleton)
If we are to continue to succeed, we need to ensure a joined up approach and have a cohesive plan for the future that embraces historic buildings, vintage locomotives and rolling stock, contemporary visitor facilities and inventive ways of telling the story and bringing history to life.
Our first step is the creation of a Diamond Anniversary Fund to pull together a number of strands, including some existing projects, under one overarching appeal that is designed to raise sufficient funds to pump-prime the next chapter in the Society’s history.
1466 in action at Didcot - February 1985. Adrian Knowles
Top of the list for the Fund is the completion of 1466 – the Society’s first locomotive. Who would have predicted in the halcyon days at the dawn of the 1960s that the sense of injustice felt by four teenage enthusiasts when they discovered that the Great Western was distinctly under-represented in the official list of locomotives that British Railways earmarked for preservation and their subsequent scheme, launched with youthful exuberance, would lead to the creation of a 21-acre living museum housing the World’s largest collection of objects relating to a single transport company? As we share the story of how that schoolboy dream turned into reality and then grew, we need to ensure that the engine that started it all doesn’t miss the party!
1466 is nearing the end of a major overhaul and restoration as thorough as any she had at Swindon during her working life with recent work including the replacement of both water tanks and remetalling and machining of the big-end bearings. Work remains on course for the locomotive to return to action as a focal point of our 60th Anniversary but the loss of revenue as a result of coronavirus and lockdown has left an unavoidable funding gap as the project nears completion.
Also set to return to action next year is another Didcot icon 4079 ‘Pendennis Castle’ which will steam for the first time since the Society repatriated her from Australia 20 years ago, so 2021 will see her work on home soil for the first time since 1977. Of course, we want to ensure we can mark this latest in a long line of successes with suitable pageantry and fanfare – again something we would normally have paid for from revenue earned this year.
GWS Vice President lights 4079's first fire this century. Frank Dumbleton
One of the nuts we haven’t been able to crack in sixty years is the provision of ramped access to the site and this remains a very high priority. Readers will know a scheme has been largely drawn up and discussions are ongoing with our landlord, Network Rail.
The cost and the complexity of the project mean physical work is unlikely to start in 2021 but we are determined to maintain momentum. Latest indications from Network Rail are that the next stage of professional/legal work with them could cost up to £35,000 and we are including this in the Diamond Anniversary Appeal with a target of having this phase of the enabling work completed during of 60th anniversary year.
As highlighted in the last edition of the Echo, initial preparatory work to erect Heyford Station Building on the Oxford Road terminus of the main demonstration line has commenced. The station, and indeed the northern end of the whole site will be transformed by the re-erection of this Great Western gem. Inside, toilet facilities, a flexible space suitable for meetings, small temporary exhibitions, school visits and a small kitchen space will open up commercial and educational opportunities and enhance the visitor experience we offer. Our plans have evolved and making full use of these facilities is now expected to include additional use of the Transfer Shed for events and functions – roles the functional Victorian structure cannot fulfil alone.
The main station building at Heyford just before dismantling and removal to Didcot (Martin Loader) and how it looked in steam days (Anon.)
Along with the Heyford building, Oxford Road would also gain a bay platform and suitable coaches berthed here can in future be used to increase revenue whether that’s an autocoach hired as a private and quirky meeting space or, in the fullness of time, a restored saloon or two in which diners enjoy a sumptuous afternoon tea.
Table setting in a Super Saloon using items from the GWT collection (Frank Dumbleton). Many of the Great Western Trust’s artefacts have been used to demonstrate life on the railway, such as this Station Master’s office tableau in the museum. Could a booking office with a similarly authentic feel be recreated in the re-erected Heyford building? (Adrian Knowles)
A good portion of this work can be funded from the Didcot Development and Capital Development funds but accelerating the work to bring forward the benefits will incur additional costs which it is hoped the Diamond Jubilee Fund will be able cover and, in turn, the increased profitability that results will contribute to future projects; as previously stated this fund is designed to kick start the next part of the Society’s development.
Joined-up concepts that include rolling stock restoration and utilisation are key and accordingly one of the Society’s perpetual ‘Cinderella’ projects features for our anniversary year. ‘Dreadnought’ 3299 was one of the earliest vehicles to be rescued by the Society. The coach was in Departmental condition when it arrived and was used in that state at the early open days. It has never been subject to a full restoration and some work is required to prevent further deterioration and to fully assess its current condition and allow a view to be taken on the feasibility and costs of restoration options. This initial stage of the project is another one that is partially funded, but it is crucial that this scoping work is carried out if this unique vehicle is to be restored.
Could the Society’s ‘Dreadnought’ one day look like this again? Our vehicle, 1905-built No. 3299, is from the same batch as No. 3277 seen in this official photograph. With nine third class compartments and a corridor that changes sides at the central vestibule, the carriage’s 9ft 6in width exploited the loading gauge to the maximum. STEAM Picture Library / Colourisation Adrian Knowles
Last, but not least is the welcome and orientation building. This is another area where it is important to keep things moving by ensuring that the tasks required prior to construction commencing are undertaken. With the Heyford building fulfilling some of the functions earmarked for the entrance building, but in a more authentic setting, there is scope to revisit the scale and layout required for the new building and possibly develop a scheme to provide a new ticket office, limited retail offer, unisex (accessible) toilets and small area for visitor welcome and orientation in a cost-effective way that potentially could be delivered reasonably quickly without recourse to grant aid so we keep that funding route for larger projects including the conservation of the Centre’s listed Engine Shed and Coal Stage for which external help will undoubtedly be needed.
Other plans for next year include a refresh of the Refreshment Rooms and Gift Shop, improving the displays in the shop and providing more appropriate and atmospheric furniture in catering. It is hoped to combine these with the installation of a canopy to provide additional undercover space for Refreshment Room patrons which will be of immediate benefit in helping improve our catering offer and extend our appeal in the autumn and winter and should social distancing still be required it will help regain our pre-lockdown capacity in catering. This work will be funded from existing resources and, together with the rest of the programme outlined, will make a material difference to visitor enjoyment, future profitability and our long-term resilience.
Didcot offers fantastic shed scenes for photographic charter events. The Signalling Centre is another landmark project completed by the GWS. Both Frank Dumbleton
To ensure the fund can help as these projects progress, and to make contributing as affordable as possible to the widest range of supporters, we are encouraging regular contributions via standing order. The cumulative impact of relatively small monthly donations is substantial and is a great way to assist the Society as it enters its seventh decade.
The leaflet includes a form that you can use to contribute to the Diamond Jubilee Fund – please do support it if you can. Of course, one-off donations of any size are always welcome.