It is now more than two months since the lockdown began and we are very much aware that a great number of our volunteers are missing our railway, friends, and the opportunity to do what you love doing.
Every day, looking after the railway in lockdown we see things that we really wish could be attended to that our volunteers would normally look after. We are reminded – if indeed we needed reminding – just what it is that our volunteers do for our railway.
There are so many things that need attention. Gardens are crying out to be tended for example and it would be so easy for things like this to be done. Many of you are asking when it might be possible to come back and indeed what can be done right now. We do appreciate that some railways in England are making a start back with their volunteers. So hopefully this will go some way to explain how things are in Wales.
Firstly we need to be clear that volunteering is not in some way banned in itself. Local volunteers are able to help with essential maintenance tasks provided the Covid secure workplace arrangements we have in place are met (we have a policy and strict procedures on this). But the Welsh Government rules must also be borne in mind. Non-essential travel is not possible. Welsh residents can travel up to five miles to meet with friends or family from one other household. Social distancing rules must be followed. This effectively precludes all but a small handful of people helping out.
As always we must ensure there is adequate supervision. At this time we must make use of the furlough scheme for our paid staff as there is no income to pay their wages. This means that organising and supervising things is very challenging indeed and the small number of staff not on furlough are working very hard and are incredibly stretched.
When will this all change? Clearly we cannot be sure but it looks like we may see some easing of lockdown in Wales over the summer. This may then make a little more volunteering work possible. We cannot give a date at the moment but we will tell you just as soon as we can.
You may have heard that some work is going on at Dinas and Boston Lodge. This is correct and a handful of staff, in carefully managed circumstances are working on funded projects that help to bring a little income and also help us to prepare for the 2021 season. A good example of this is the externally-funded work to complete No130 which we hope to follow with work on re-boilering 138 (143’s boiler expires in Feb 2021 for 10 year overhaul). We are also wrapping up the work on Welsh Pony so that this is available for traffic just as soon as we can start again. Watch out for the news of the first steaming on social media. We will ensure that lighting up, first lifting of safety valves, and first movements under steam will be shared live on-line so that all our volunteers and supporters can share in this as best we can.
For now we will continue with the essential work to keep the railway secure and as close to operational as possible. You will hear of occasional movements, testing and shunting etc in support of this. Taking in to account the limitations placed upon us by Welsh Government and the expectations of the local community such things are kept to a minimum but where they do occur we will try to share information about it on social media and our other communications channels.
Do please feel free to keep in touch. It is always good to hear from any of our volunteers.
Paul Lewin & Iain Wilkinson