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Heritage Lottery Fund hands first class ticket to Devon’s prestigious railway collection

Posted on: 17 December 2012

Rail enthusiasts are celebrating the announcement that Devon County Council has secured a grant of £49,600 from the Heritage Lottery Fund to improve access to its Railway Studies Collection.

Housed in the newly revamped Passmore Edwards Centre in Newton Abbot, the collection is the largest in the UK outside the National Railway Museum in York and is popular with researchers and historians across the world.

Containing over 80,000 items, most of them original and unique, the collection covers all aspects of Britain’s Railways and includes information on standard gauge railways, broad gauge, narrow gauge, industrial lines, miniature railways, underground railways and preserved railways.

The project, which is being developed by the Council’s Library Service, seeks to improve access the collection, and better promote it.

A dedicated online database and new website will be created to allow worldwide access to the collection 24 hours a day. The site will bring together existing catalogues and indexes into a single search tool so people can go online and explore the full range of resources available. It will also display images so it can become a virtual permanent learning resource for those who cannot visit the collection in person.

It is supported by the ‘Friends of the Railway Studies’, with 20 regular volunteers who help manage the collection’s many resources, which include books, periodicals and leaflets along with timetables, postcards, maps and railways society literature  photographs. There is also lots of audio visual material such as slides and illustrations.

The grant will help broaden the appeal of the collection by increasing volunteering opportunities, particularly in relation to the preservation and conservation of the collection. People will also be encourage to  enhance the collection themselves by adding new legacy materials such as photographs and through film making and intergenerational reminiscence work to document oral history.

Local arts education organisation, Daisi will plan a programme of creative workshops to encourage local people to discover the railway heritage of Newton Abbot and the surrounding area, and attract new audiences, including young people to the collection. Through these workshops relevant and inclusive learning materials will be produced such as ‘discovery boxes’ for people of all ages to handle, explore and learn about the collection.

The project also aims to promote and extend the collection by developing further links with organisations to promote and extend the collection including Newton Abbot Town Museum, the museum of the South Devon railway at Buckfastleigh and other railway heritage groups.

Councillor Roger Croad, Devon County Council’s Cabinet Member for Communities, said:

“Newton Abbot has great historical significance as a railway centre, and revitalizing our Railway Studies Collection, with its connections to the Victorian era, will be a major asset to this newly restored Victorian building.

“Our multi-million pound redevelopment of the Passmore Edwards Centre earlier this year means we are able to work on widening the collection’s access and appeal as the new building offers increased opening hours and improved storage and display facilities.

“Awareness of the collection amongst railway history societies and individual researchers is good, but we want to make sure everyone knows about this wonderful resource, and widen its appeal to residents and others further afield who may not know what interesting and valuable material is available.

“This funding, along with the support from our excellent volunteer group, will help us develop this exciting project and open up the collection for everyone to explore and enjoy.

“Receiving support from the Heritage Lottery Fund is a major boost to our efforts to raise the collection’s profile, securing its future for years to come and further enhancing the cultural and heritage offer available in Devon.”

Cllr Anne Fry, Devon County Council’s Local Member for Newton Abbot North, said:

“I am delighted that the unique Railway Studies Collection,  most of which was presented to the town by a local benefactor,  will be even more accessible through a new database and website.

“The  volunteers belonging to the Friends of the Railway Studies have been working hard for many years to support the collection and the Heritage Lottery funding is a reward to them, the Library service and the town.”

Cllr Gordon Hook, Devon County Council’s Local Member for Newton Abbot South, said:

 “For many people Newton Abbot is known as ‘a railway town’ and always will be, some industrial architecture still exists to evidence that.

“However, this grant will enhance the opportunity for locals and visitors alike to study the documented evidence in the comfort of our great new library facility.

“It will also increase the local tourism offer of the town, all excellent news.”

The Heritage Lottery Fund’s acting Head of the South West, Richard Bellamy, said:

“The Railway Studies Collection at Newton Abbot is the second largest in the UK and contains important and significant items dating back to the birth of the rail network in the early 19th century.  We were delighted to be able to offer support to this project, which will ensure that the collection and its resources are made more easily and widely available.”

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