Some people see the words ‘voluntary work’ and automatically think it sounds boring, and not worthwhile. These two words might bring images of helping the elderly, working in a church, or raising money for a charity. Whilst these are all worthy causes and very much deserve the support of the community, did you know you can also volunteer at preserved railways? These heritage lines rely on people giving up their time to drive and maintain the locomotives and rolling stock that they run, and to look after and staff the stations along their routes. In this article, we speak to Paul McKinnell, a former Permanent Way Manager and now occasional driver at the Spa Valley Railway in Tunbridge Wells.
Its very important to preserve Britain’s railway heritage. Some of your favourite heritage locomotives wouldn’t be running on the mainline today if it weren’t for the people who got involved with looking after them. We asked Paul why looking after our railway heritage is important:
Because it fills a big gap in our understanding of how we got where we are today, it smells nice and makes lots of people very happy.
Paul told us that there are many different jobs that you can do on a preserved railway. There are roles for any age or ability, and there are also plenty of opportunities for disabled people to get involved as well. Some roles you might like to help with at your local heritage railway are:
- Working in the ticket office.
- Training to become a ticket inspector, guard, fireman or even a train driver.
- Maintaining the heritage train fleet.
- Cleaning the carriages and stations.
- Providing advice to passengers on the platforms.
- Dispatching trains from the stations.
- Coupling and uncoupling trains.
- Selling items in the railway’s gift shop.
- And much, much more besides!
You can also help the railway without being in public view or on the stations along the heritage route, by helping the team to maintain the website, doing administration jobs around the offices or working on the marketing side of the railway. What we’re trying to say here is that whatever your interest, there’s likely to be a position for you at a preserved railway. If you’re a shy person, then don’t worry – preserved railways are one of the friendliest places you will visit and you’re bound to fit in, as the team will be full of enthusiasts just like you. During your time working at a heritage railway, you’ll also learn lots of new skills, as Paul explained to us:
The opportunity to become proficient in many skills you’d otherwise not know, particularly civil engineering, metalworking, signalling, trackwork, etc. Our S&T manager got a Network Rail signalling apprenticeship on the strength of his involvement here.
As you can see, the skills you gain whilst volunteering can be used to enhance your CV. Then when you go to search for a career, employers (especially those in the railway industry, but also those outside of it) can see what you’ve achieved. Voluntary work looks great on a CV because it shows you’re a dedicated person, and that you were prepared to give up your time unpaid to help the community and to further your knowledge. It would be an especially good idea to volunteer for a while before you start your first job, as its likely to be your first ever bit of work experience.
If you’re interested in volunteering your time to help preserve Britain’s railways, talk to your local heritage railway. A full list of these railways and a map of their location can be found on the Heritage Railway Association website.
The YREA would like to thank occasional driver Paul McKinnell from the Spa Valley Railway for his help with putting this article together, and Michael Eckersley for his photograph of the railway in Tunbridge Wells.