Events, Projects and Activities in 2021/22
The Darent Valley Community Rail Partnership was launched in September 2019. The launch was celebrated with an event train which travelled from Swanley to the newly renovated Bat & Ball station, then a vintage bus – provided by local company Go-Coach – to Sevenoaks. Musicians performed on board the train and entertainment was provided by a magician.
Since the launch we have succeeded in raising significant funds for the CRP, with Steering Group partners (local District, Town and Parish councils) contributing grants, together with a significant funding package from the current franchisees operating in the valley, Southeastern and Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR).
In July 2020, the current accountable body of the Darent Valley CRP, Sevenoaks District Council, recruited a Rail Projects Community Officer, Sarah Newman, who works 20 hours a week for the CRP. Each station also now has several station volunteer adopters willing and able to help with work going forward, with those groups expanding all the time (and do let us know if you would like to help!).
A wide-ranging Action Plan was agreed with members of the Steering Group which was adapted to cope with COVID-19 restrictions. A significant number of actions remained possible, particularly in the virtual world, with a focus on online offerings.
We also played a key part in pressing GTR to deliver on their promised Passenger Benefit Fund (awarded following problems arising from changes to the timetables in 2018), working with local communities to represent their views and applying pressure to get answers, with many improvements to the stations along the line now apparent, with new ticket machines, new shelters, updated toilet facilities and waiting rooms and new train indicators. The beautiful old shelter at Eynsford station is being replaced like-for-like and a link from Bat & Ball station to the recently opened Bat & Ball Community Centre has been opened.
Reaching out to locals: the railway officer has been meeting with a whole range of local groups, hearing what they would like to achieve and how the train operators, stations and services can work together to provide sustainable, accessible transport and enjoyable journeys.
We commissioned artist Kit Boyd to create artworks to be made into posters for each of the stations, now completed and up at stations along the Darent Valley Line. The beautiful posters – printed as high quality art prints – are for sale in person at Bat & Ball station cafe (6.30am to 2pm), with other retailers available soon. We are also consulting on designs for murals for railway bridges close to our stations. The Rail Officer is collaborating with other community rail partnerships along the Thameslink line to create an exciting Art Trail, celebrating all the art and heritage venues in reach – watch this space! And we are creating Rail Trails and suggested tours of all the villages, towns and landscapes so well loved by the amazing range of artists and writers who have lived in or near the Darent Valley.
Food and drink
We have been working with local producers to create a virtual (then later led) tour taking in the talents produce of all the businesses along the line, from coffee and cake specialists in Sevenoaks, to French smokeries in Bat & Ball, to sparkling wine producers, fairy-tale orchards, lavender fields, hops production and gin distilleries. To view the suggested trail, check our Food and Drink Trail section of the website.
We are exploring which trails might work best from each station (and to others), for walkers and cyclists, highlighting the beauty of the area and varying the walks so that families, athletes and strollers can all enjoy the trails at their own pace.
The natural world
We are reaching out to other partnerships in the area to collaborate on access to the beautiful natural world that lies to each side of the valley and to discuss what role the DVCRP can play in creating more habitats for the endangered species dependent on the rare chalk grasslands of the North Downs.
A key pillar of our activities is interacting with schools to teach about and encourage rail travel. The beautifully-restored station at Bat & Ball provides several rooms (and a café) for rail safety/rail industry workshops but there are also virtual opportunities to learn about employees working in the rail industry and we will soon offer the chance to look around a train and even make announcements! Network Rail offers a range of resources for schools about rail safety and working in the rail industry. Our partner community rail group at Southeast CRP has also gathered together a whole range of great online resources for young people, including learning how to run Great Western Railway!