Having bought the railway track bed and the two bridges at Pudding Norton, Fakenham, we have begun to plan for restoration of the bridges and for the involvement of the local community.
The condition of the bridges has already been assessed by Bob Wright, a railway civil engineer of great experience, to whom we owe a lot. This has shown that they are in a surprisingly good state after many years of disuse. Nevertheless, they need restoration work to prevent deterioration and to keep them sound for the time when the railway can be rebuilt.
Although it is clearly marked as private property, the trackbed as far as the river bridge is walked extensively by local people, who greatly enjoy the wonderful view of the Wensum Valley from our high embankment. We are happy for this to continue until the route is required for the railway but it must be under “permissive path” status, which will prevent the establishment of a full public right of way and ensure that railway use will not be impeded. In fact, there is adequate width to allow both railway and a footpath, should that be necessary in the future.
Registering a permissive path is, therefore, important as is attention to public safety. We have already tried a number of times to get guidance from the authorities on the process involved in establishing a permissive path without much result. There appear to be some policy changes planned. We shall stay with it.
Otherwise, we are now concentrating on two strategies:
First, we are forging partnerships with groups in the local community. We are working with Fakenham Academy towards the provision of teaching material about the history and the future of the railway, together with a possible short training course for teachers about the railway and its place in the community. We think it no bad thing that young people should be made aware of the railway, its past and its potential. They are of a generation that has grown up without a local railway. We need to help them to understand what a rail service to Fakenham could do for the community, the economy and the environment.
We also have a partnership with Fakenham Area Conservation Team, which is to help control vegetation along the track bed on a voluntary basis. We are very grateful for this highly practical assistance.
The more that local people understand the importance of the work that we are doing and the more they become involved, the better the long-term prospects for a strongly supported project to bring the railway back to Fakenham.
In that connection, quotations have been obtained for the creation of interpretation boards to be placed on the site illustrating the history of the railway and the Wensum Valley environment and explaining our plans to acquire more trackbed and, in partnership with the Mid Norfolk Railway, return a public transport rail service to Fakenham.
Second, we have to consider the work necessary on the bridges, both to arrest deterioration and to improve safety provisions. The bridges are not going to fall to pieces but it will be a very good thing if we can deal with such things as ingress of water, vegetation establishing itself where it should not be, loose masonry and lack of protective paintwork.
Bob Wright has advised on the work that needs to be done and quotations have been obtained from specialist contractors.
Both of these strategies require money. £3,800 has been raised in grants initially. This is made up of £300 from Fakenham Town Council, which is strongly in support of our efforts as a matter of policy, £2,500 from the Ernest Cook Trust and £1,000 from the Veronica Awdry Charitable Trust. We are now seeking to build on this support with further grant applications for substantial funding sufficient to allow us to fulfil both strategies: community partnerships and bridge restoration. There is a lot of competition for funding but, for the first time, we have a project at Fakenham of the right kind to attract grant support.
Whilst this goes on, we have also been looking at the potential acquisition of another section of trackbed. Such negotiations, however, do have to be approached with sensitivity and care. Inevitably there are many pitfalls and they take time.