Cumbrian community organisation wins top national award for ‘spectacular’ station art exhibition

A Cumbrian ‘Community Rail’ Partnership has won a coveted national award for an eye-catching art exhibition celebrating Workington’s rich railway history, bringing the station into the heart of the community.

Community Rail Cumbria fought off strong competition to win the Community Creative Projects and Station Arts prize at the 17th national Community Rail Awards.

Working with the Workington Focus Group, the Partnership created the ‘Rails Which Circled the World’, an exhibition highlighting the historical importance of the rail industry to the Cumbrian town. A total of 17 seven-foot-high panels, unveiled in May this year, depict the triumphs and tragedies of the area’s coal mines, ironworks, steelworks, and docks, all once connected by rail.

The project continues the heritage education thread emerging along the Cumbrian Coast Line, with Workington joining Maryport, Ravenglass, and Millom as ‘destination stations’, hosting focal points where younger generations can learn about Cumbria’s heritage. The awards judges praised the exhibition as a “fantastic example of living, local history.”

More broadly, Community Rail Cumbria runs a wide range of community engagement and social inclusion initiatives, supports volunteering at stations, promotes green travel and tourism by rail, and works with railway and local authority partners.

Warren Birch, Community Rail Partnership Officer for the Cumbrian Coast Line, said:

“We are delighted to receive this prestigious award. We would like to thank Laurence Hilland, who wrote the original project plan, as well as Northern, Direct Rail Services, Cumbria County Council, Workington Transport Heritage Trust, Community Rail Network, Cumbria Railways Association and the Helena Thompson Museum.

“This project would not have been possible without drawing on the rich history of Workington. We are pleased to be able to showcase all the industries that made Workington a world industrial leader and show younger generations the fantastic industrial history of the area.”

Community Rail Cumbria would also like to acknowledge David Wallace for his fantastic third place in the Outstanding Volunteer Contribution category, the enthusiasm, hard work and commitment shown by this individual has contributed to the wonderful heritage look within Workington station.

The Community Rail Awards, organised by Community Rail Network, recognise the important, often unsung, work by Community Rail Partnerships, station friends, and other Community Rail groups across Britain. They shine a light on vital projects across this growing grassroots movement, highlighting Community Rail’s contribution to sustainable mobility, social inclusion, community development, and wellbeing.

This year held at Southampton’s O2 Guildhall and streamed online, the awards were attended by more than 300 guests, including Community Rail volunteers, officers, rail industry and government representatives. The event was addressed by transport ministers from UK, Welsh, and Scottish Governments, including Rail Minister Chris Heaton-Harris MP, plus industry leaders and personalities passionate about Community Rail, including Chris Tarrant.

Jools Townsend, Chief Executive of Community Rail Network, said:

“Our congratulations go to Community Rail Cumbria for this fantastic project: a superb example of bringing local history to life, while also increasing awareness and positivity about the railway. This spectacular exhibition adds further to the transformation of Workington station, which has become a real gateway and focal point for the town and surrounding area. This builds on the extensive work of the Community Rail Partnership over the years, to ensure communities are well-served and connected by the beautiful Cumbrian Coast Line railway, and able to engage with its future as well as its past.

The Community Rail Awards recognise the achievements and passion of community rail volunteers, groups and partnerships across Britain. Their tireless efforts connect local people with their railways and stations, bring communities together, and enable more people to access sustainable, inclusive travel.”

Rail Minister, Chris Heaton-Harris, said:

“Our railway offers a vital lifeline for local communities across the UK who depend on it for access to jobs and opportunities, to connect with friends and families, and experience everything the UK has to offer.

“These awards recognise those Community Rail partners and volunteers that go above and beyond, making a real difference to those that use our rail network, as well as neighbouring communities. I’d like to extend my heartfelt congratulations and gratitude to this year’s winners and finalists for all their work.”

Councillor Keith Little, Cabinet Member for Highways and Transport, said:

“I was delighted to attend the Community Rail Awards evening, these events are always very enjoyable as they are all about the dedicated volunteers who support their local railways and stations. Hours of hard work goes into improving the stations, making the rail and visitor experience far more enjoyable for passengers.

Cumbria Community Rail Partnership has over many years been recognised for their dedication and hard work in supporting their local communities along the rail infrastructure.

I was pleased to open the ‘Rails Which Circled the World’ project alongside one of the retired engine drivers who had spent his working life in the rail industry at Workington.

I would like to give thanks to all involved in this project, I know a great many people have been along to enjoy the displays, including several schools. I would encourage people to visit the station and experience this amazing story, many of the local people in West Cumbria will be able to recognise some of the faces in these photographs, I certainly did.”