A BLOSSOMING heritage railway in Northumberland has formed a unique partnership with a service for adults with learning disabilities.
The Aln Valley Railway, which will eventually run steam trains between Alnwick and Alnmouth, has reached an agreement with Pottergate Centre day service for provision of refreshments at one of its stations.
Pottergate’s clients will work in a cafe at the Alnwick site and be given opportunities to work on other aspects of the railway.
The partners believe theirs is the first joint venture by a heritage railway and a day centre.
The centre is run jointly by Northumberland County Council and Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust for people aged 18 to 65.
Over 15 people work daily in the centre’s Pottergate Pantry which provides upwards of 45 meals for the day centre, the two Anchor Housing Associations in Alnwick, Branton First School and the Northumberland Day Hospice, and can also make buffet meals to order.
It also provides cakes, biscuits and pies for a sister social enterprise cafe at Hepscott Park, near Morpeth.
The railway has allocated a portable building in which a cafe will be developed, with the necessary investment in staff, equipment and materials being provided by the centre.
The cafe will provide Pottergate clients, who find it hard to be accepted for work alongside other members of the public, with a sheltered environment where they can learn new skills and interact with others on a daily basis.
Other clients may be able to work on the railway in other areas such as gardening or sales. Both the railway and the centre believe theirs is the first joint venture by a heritage railway and a day centre.
Head of the centre Stephanie Stafford said: “We are looking forward to a joint venture with the Aln Valley Railway, where we will run our own cafe at Lionheart station and sell our goods through the cafe and shop.
“A cafe for our business was the next natural step. We want our business to be worthwhile and innovative and we believe we can complement the efforts of the Aln Valley Railway.”
Roger Jermy, railway press and public relations officer, said: “The railway is delighted to have formed this link with the Pottergate Centre.
“It will relieve us of the responsibilities of running the cafe and will ensure, with the expertise and enthusiasm of the Pottergate staff, that high-quality goods and refreshments will always be available at Lionheart station.”
The line linking the two communities was built in 1850 but closed in 1968. The project to reinstate it was set up in 1995.
After a series of false dawns, including failed funding bids and a rival proposal to designate the route of the line as a path, those involved have in recent times secured the land for the railway from the Duke of Northumberland, the necessary planning permission, finance and rolling stock.
Work is now under way laying track at the Alnwick end of the line. The trust plans to begin offering rides to the public at the site at the end of February.