The Melton Constable Trust, the registered charity that is seeking to bring the railway back to Fakenham, has been awarded a National Lottery grant of £59,800 from the Heritage Lottery Fund(HLF). The grant will enable the Trust to use the section of line and the bridges it already owns for the benefit of the community, by providing safe access and interpreting the history of the railway for school students and visitors. A key aim of the project is the repair of the two bridges to prevent their continued deterioration.
Two years ago, with the aid of donations from the local community and supporters across the country, the Trust was able to buy an important section of the old rail route at Pudding Norton, Fakenham including two iconic bridges. The three arch bridge over the River Wensum is a much loved local landmark which appears on town maps. The ultimate aim is to acquire more of the old track bed and to link up with the Mid Norfolk Railway so that the railway can be rebuilt to Fakenham.
Trevor Bailey, a Trustee of the Melton Constable Trust, said: “This success is really the result of the tremendous interest that local people have shown in the old railway, its history and the prospect of trains eventually returning to the town. We bought the track bed and the two bridges at auction for £24,000, with very little time for fund raising, simply because our supporters were willing to put their hands in their pockets and donate significant sums. That effort has now paid off in a big way. The Heritage Lottery Fund has decided that the community’s support and our plans for the site are worthy of major funding. We are more than grateful to HLF and to the members of the public who buy Lottery tickets and make these grants possible. We are a small group of volunteers working very hard and it provides enormous encouragement to have this kind of backing.”
“Our aim is ultimately to acquire all of the track bed necessary to link to the Mid Norfolk Railway in order to bring trains back to the Fakenham. The Mid Norfolk Railway is actively rebuilding its line northwards to County School, the next station north of Dereham, which is already in its ownership.”
“The extension of services to Fakenham is, however, well into the future. It will take a considerable time to acquire the rest of the land required and to achieve the rebuilding of the railway, with the very substantial expenditure involved. We have to work carefully and considerately with existing landowners.”
“For the coming years, we want to make sure that the Pudding Norton site is open to the community, for walking, heritage education purposes, environmental experiences and related events. We shall be working with Fakenham Town Council, schools and a number of community and voluntary groups. The Town Council has committed its support and Fakenham Academyhas agreed to work with us on the production of an education pack for students and on training for teachers in local railway history. Volunteers from the Fakenham Area Conservation Team will undertake basic maintenance work on the site on an ongoing basis. The Fakenham and District Community Archive, along with the Mid Norfolk Railway, has offered to contribute historical information and photographs.”
The main priority is to get the site into an accessible and safe state, so that it is maintained for future railway use, interim community access is realistic and the historical story can be told. One of the main concerns is the restoration of the bridges and related safety issues. Both bridges are fundamentally sound but there has been deterioration in the years since the railway was closed and they do not offer enough safety for people on foot, including children. The iron bridge where two railways, the Great Eastern Railway and the Midland & Great Northern Joint Railway, crossed, in particular, needs maintenance.
A full inspection of the bridges has been carried out by a very experienced professional railway civil engineer. Repairs to the bridges are vital to the eventual restoration of rail services. The other principal aim is to interpret the site, its surrounding environment and their histories for the benefit of the public and to provide educational outcomes in partnership with local schools.
The National Lottery grant from HLF will, therefore, cover these things:
Preparing the site for easy access and use by the community.
Bridge repairs and safety measures.
Information signs and interpretation boards dealing with the history and environment of the railway and surrounding areas.
A training course for teachers and classroom assistants from local schools on the history of the site, the railways and the surrounding flood plain environment to enable them to bring their students to the site and use it as a learning resource.
Production of associated educational materials, including an education pack
The making of oral history recordings of people who used and worked on the railway, which will be included in the educational material and be available for broadcast and on the Trust’s website.
Paul Young, the Trust’s Project Officer, will be the local point of contact whilst the work is being carried out. He advised: “In the coming months the most obvious activity will be the repair work on the bridges, which will be carried out by professional engineers. It will be necessary to close off access whilst that work is under way for safety reasons but the end result will be a great improvement. Meanwhile, other work will be going on. We shall be researching information, documents and photographs about the history of the railway and recording the memories of people who used to work or travel on the line. If you have personal memories of the railways through Fakenham or any pictures and memorabilia, we shall be very glad to hear from you.”