Chairman’s Report 2017-2018

THE FRIENDS OF BENNERLEY VIADUCT

CHAIRMAN’S REPORT  2017-2018

If the period covered by this report had ended with the calendar year on 31 December it would make for very different reading. It would show twelve months of effort, growth and partnership culminating in the achievement of very significant progress towards our ultimate aim – restoring the Bennerley Viaduct and bringing it back into use as a walking and cycling route. As it is, the final quarter of the year 2017-2018 has been marked by disappointment and some anger.  The reasons for this are well known to members and to the general public, and I will return to the topic at the end of this report.

Let me focus first of all on the multitude of activities and considerable achievements of our group since April 2017.

Membership.  A membership scheme was introduced and the numbers joining continued to increase over the year, mainly through direct engagement with the public.  Further details are provided by the treasurer in his report.

Workdays.  A pattern of monthly workdays on, under and around the viaduct was established and managed by Kieran Lee the Community Engagement and Development Officer, employed by Sustrans.  These sessions were very well attended and a massive amount of work was undertaken.  The Friends expressed some concerns to Sustrans about how workday activities fitted within an overall plan, a matter which is yet to be resolved.   

Volunteer Workdays were well attended with eleven workdays taking place in 2017. Two of the workdays were attended by over 20 volunteers. The principal task undertaken in 2017 was clearing the first three spans of scrub vegetation and unwanted rubble. Other work included vegetation clearance and maintaining the pathways on the underside of the viaduct.  Work was also carried out to remove earth and rubble from buried pier bases.  An estimated 700 hours of volunteer time was given over the course of the year.

Towards the end of the year Sustrans provided a shipping container which was installed at Armstrong’s Mill through the kind permission of Keiron Armstrong.  The container was lined and insulated by volunteers and tools were transferred from storage at the Rutland Sports Park.  Some of the materials were provided free of charge or at cost by local businesses . Approximately 50 hours of volunteer time were donated to this task.

Training.  Walk leader training was delivered by Sustrans for 10 volunteers from the Friends of Bennerley Viaduct.

Purchase of equipment.  The FoBV were able to make some significant purchases with the help of grants from EBC and DCC.

EBC grant – gazebo, projector and display boards.

DCC grant – brush cutter, safety equipment and training.

Merchandise.  Merchandise comprised T-shirts, mugs, postcards, greetings cards, key rings and limited edition prints commissioned from local businesses. 

Thanks are due to Paul Atherley, Steve Adams and Philip Francomb for the photographs used on merchandise and to Dave McCabe for the widely used and instantly recognisable logo. Merchandise was sold at the many events attended by or organised by the group.

Events.  The Friends attended a number of local public events in the Spring and Summer of 2017 where they were able to inform people about the project, gain supporters and raise money through sales and donations. These events were:

Kirk Hallam Lakeside Festival

Festival of Water at Gallows Inn

Classic Vehicle Show, Ilkeston Market Square

Victoria Park Opening

The gazebo purchased with the EBC grant was used at all of the above.

The Friends also participated in a two day electric bike event “Raleigh in the Valley” which involved four groups of up to twenty people per group cycling to Bennerley Viaduct from the Raleigh showrooms in Eastwood, using Raleigh’s fleet of electric bikes.

Fund Raising Events.  Stall on Ilkeston Market selling merchandise and donated items. Car boot sale organised by Stephen Draycott.

Music event in November by Chris Nixon, who generously performed free of charge.

Guided Walks.  A number of guided walks led by Kieran Lee and assisted by volunteers took place over the summer and autumn. Some of these took place as part of The Autumn Footprints scheme and others were connected with the Heritage Open Days.

Over 200 people took part in guided walks events. There were six separate walks each with 30+ attendees. Teams from the Friends of Bennerley Viaduct acted as guides with each guide informing the groups about the viaduct from their own area of knowledge and expertise.

Illustrated talks. Kieran Lee and volunteers have delivered illustrated talks to a number of groups, making use of the equipment purchased with the help of the EBC grant.  These talks were given to history societies, U3A groups, ramblers groups, church groups, canal societies, civic groups and many others.

Exhibition and displays.  Good use was made of the scale model, purchased by Sustrans with a Heritage Lottery Fund grant in 2016, and the accompanying display throughout the year. It appeared at the following venues:

Derby College (all four campuses)

Cantelupe Centre, Ilkeston

Tesco Superstore, Ilkeston

Shipley Country Park

Raleigh, Eastwood

Armstrong’s Mill, Ilkeston

Smaller displays including a range of photographs collected and arranged by Richard Bull and Tim Dawson went on show at Kimberley Library. The photographs were also used at a number of events. 

Visit of HLF CEO, June, 2017.  Ros Kerslake visited the site, saw volunteers at work, had a guided tour, viewed the exhibition and photographic display and went away with a very good impression of the community support for the project. 

Website and social media.  Over the course of the year the group’s ability to communicate with members, supporters and the general public has been much improved by the work done by Ian Potter on the website and Facebook page.  The group has over 1500 Facebook followers. One post showing an old film of the Friargate Line has attracted over 150,000 viewings. The Friends also took over the mailchimp application from Sustrans which means that all communication with supporters is now in our hands. 

The Project.  Bill Tomson, employed by Railway Paths Ltd., spent three years preparing the project and the bid for HLF funds.  In this he was assisted by other RPL and Sustrans staff  and the Friends.  The essential link between FoBV and the project was provided by Kieran Lee.  With Kieran’s help the Friends became a formidable force which contributed to the evolution of an excellent project and provided the massive community engagement element of the bid. 

It is generally accepted that large bids to HLF at the national level are never supported first time, so it was no surprise on 13 December, 2017, when funds were not allocated to the Bennerley Viaduct Project. However everything else in HLF’s response to the bid was positive, and, on reflection, it was the best result that could have been reasonably expected. HLF were keen to support the project and encouraged Sustrans to resubmit, with some revisions.  2017 therefore ended on a positive note with the group sure that momentum could be sustained to support a new bid, probably in summer 2018. 

It is fair to say that the committee had some concerns about the relationship with Sustrans dating back at least a year.  There had at times been poor communication from Sustrans, a seeming lack of interest on their part in publicising the project and a failure to integrate FoBV activities into the overall scheme. All of this was frustrating and hard to understand, but in early January 2018 it became more worrying when there was still no word on what Sustrans’ response would be to the HLF feedback.

The committee surmised that Sustrans might be considering a scaled down project and drafted a letter urging them to resubmit it in its original form while meeting any HLF requirements for revisions.  Before this letter could be sent Kieran announced, on 30 January, that he was cancelling the next scheduled workday due to circumstances beyond his control.  He told the committee that information had been released to Sustrans staff which could not be divulged outside the organisation.  The nature of this information meant that going ahead with a workday would compromise his integrity.  I contacted Matthew Easter, the Sustrans Director for Midlands and East to ask for clarification. The next day, after the go ahead from the Sustrans executive, he informed me that the bid would not be resubmitted on the grounds of unacceptable financial risk and policy issues.

The committee immediately sent a letter to Sustrans CEO challenging the decision, the grounds for the decision, our exclusion from the process and the failure to communicate. When it was pointed out that the way in which this matter had been dealt with was in breach of the Memorandum of Understanding between the two organisations the CEO had to admit that he was not aware of this document. By this time the committee had spread the news to members and supporters and the story was quickly picked up by local and social media.  In early February both organisations had their say in the local press, on local radio and regional television and Xavier Brice, Sustrans CEO, responded to our letter. It was clear that Sustrans was taken aback by the scale of the reaction to their decision and the way they had handled their relationship with FoBV and the community.

Conscious, we believe, that they were in danger of suffering significant reputational damage, and aware that any future project would require our support, they arranged a meeting of FoBV, Sustrans Executive, the Principal Engineer of RPL and the chairs of their respective boards.  Members of your committee attended this meeting, on 15 February, with the following agenda:

  • to restate our disagreement with the decision and our objections to our treatment as partners
  • to make a case for resubmitting a revised and strengthened bid based on suggestions on how the financial risk could be mitigated
  • to suggest a new partnership based on a consortium model and including some new partners

Sustrans were emphatic that their decision would stand, but they had not “abandoned the viaduct”.  They and RPL were still committed to a viaduct project, but it would be smaller in scale and lower in cost.  It was later announced that any new project would be led by RPL in partnership with FoBV and Sustrans.

On 15 March RPL held a workshop with FoBV committee to explore initial options. These include: critical repairs, creation of a path under the viaduct, a ramp at the western end, steps at the eastern end, the installation of decking. Taking an incremental approach it will be possible to work towards the original vision for the viaduct. These options, their costs and sources of funding are to be examined by Bill Tomson.  Any proposed project will go to the RPL Board and Sustrans executive in July for approval.

In December 2017 we were anticipating a final push to fund a massive prestige project which could reasonably be expected to be complete in three years time, bringing significant and immediate benefits to the area. In March 2018 we are in a different partnership with more modest short and medium term ambitions. It is our challenge to revive and sustain the momentum in the group, to re-engage the community and to play a full part in the partnership to ensure that it does not lose sight of the ultimate goal of bringing the viaduct back into use.

Thanks.  Finally, thank you to all of those people, and there are many of you, who have supported the Friends and the project over the year. It is impossible to name everyone, but I would like to mention the following:

Councillors Robert Flatley (DCC), Glennice Birkin, James Dawson (EBC)

Derbyshire County Council

Erewash Borough Council

Awsworth Parish Council

Keiron Armstrong

Stuart Ashton (Harworth Estates)

Chris Nixon

Kathryn Cordon

Kim and Steve at the Gate Inn, Awsworth

Jack and Phil at the Dewdrop Inn, Ilkeston

All those who have attended workdays and supported events.

The Committee.

Kieran Lee. 

When Kieran was appointed to the post of Community Engagement and Development officer it transformed the Friends from a small talking shop to a large, well organised community group.  The energy and talents of members and other supporters were channelled into a range of activities which had a significant impact on public awareness and created the strong community engagement element of the bid to HLF.

It is no secret that Kieran put in many more hours than his contract required. That his experiences with Sustrans made it necessary for him to resign is a matter of huge regret to the committee.  Fortunately for us he is still passionate about the viaduct and is now free to become a member of the Friends, where his expertise and enthusiasm will be welcome.

Jeff Wynch      April, 2018.

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