The bid

The four week turnaround target for a decision was nearly up when a voicemail told me there was a message from the Heritage Lottery Fund. Surely that was a good sign? Indeed it was. Our bid, four years in the making, had been successful.

The news, however, was embargoed until all the paperwork was signed and a joint Press Release agreed. Unfortunately, we had already agreed to a ‘launch’ event for the three village schools signed up to the three project schools programme. Though this was funded by a local charity, and it was included in the project as matched funding so it could not go ahead. Fortunately, York Greenways had enough down the back of the sofa to cover the day and we can run something similar later in the project.

Equally fortunately, the weather on the day was perfect. The prospect of 110 year 4 children from three different schools crowded into Naburn village hall on a rainy day was not appealing. We (the three heads and I) had planned to mix the three schools together and then split them into two groups – one half in the village hall, the other out on the greenway. I had planned the activities like a military operation and, like most military operations, it went wrong from the start . The bus from Riccall was late and then they all had to go to the loo so we had to cut things a bit short. Of course no one but me was any the wiser and in the end everyone got to do the key ‘taster’ activities and went away enthused and eager to get stuck into my project when they come back to school in the autumn.

The half-day session in the hall comprised two talks , broken up by a game of cricket out on the playing field. First Trevor Chalkley, an ex-miner, had them spellbound with tales of life down the mine, life in the mining villages and how coal was formed. After the cricket, Dave Thorp , a noted local film maker , talked about the railways, ingeniously illustrating the power of steam with the help of an electric kettle.

Out on the Greenway, Dave Watson and Sarah Bradbury from Sustrans’ Greener Greenways project had the children planting wildflowers and identifying insects they caught in nets. With the scale models of the space probe Cassini and the planet Saturn conveniently close by, Adam, from the University of York’s Physics Outreach section told the children about Cassini’s imminent demise – something we hope to cover in the autumn term.

Gathering the 110 students back in the hall we thanked them for their lively interest – a credit to all three schools – and set them the task over the summer holiday of finding out if they had any relatives or neighbours with memories of the railway line, the coalfield or the creation of the greenway and if so would they be willing to be part of our oral history project.

Under Way

A couple of days later our press release was approved and all the permissions signed and sealed, and we were free to go public.

The project had been born some years ago when a group of volunteers on day release from a railway company admitted they had no idea the Solar System Greenway had once been on the main East Coast line from London to Edinburgh. It seemed criminal that this rich history was being lost so we devised this project, linking the building and eventual closure of the line with the Selby coalfield, now also gone, and the line’s re-creation as a traffic-free greenway from Riccall to York.

First, we tried to get it funded by the Arts Council as part of its ‘Connecting Communities’ festival leading up to the Tour de France Grand Depart in Yorkshire in 2014. Unsuccessful, we turned to the Heritage Lottery Fund with a modest bid. They liked it and suggested we should be more ambitious. This seemed a bit too much for a small volunteer-run organisation so we offered it to a national charity with sufficient back-office resources to employ a Project Worker. After a year or so’s consideration they opted out and the choice was either to drop it, or to go it alone. With much help from Sheridan Piggott of York’s Bike Belles, that is just what we did.

So far none of the local papers have run the story – we will try again when we have some pictures – but we did get invited to ‘appear’ on Radio York. Brenda Christison (Head of Naburn school) and I duly spoke to the world. It seemed to go well and, miraculously, the interviewer was a resident of Bishopthorpe and a regular greenway user and promised to invite us back when things were really underway.

The website development is underway and an intern from the University of York is busy working with York Explore to create the research framework for the four elements of the project:

  • The Railway
  • The Selby Coalfield
  • The National Cycle Network and Solar System model
  • The Green Corridor

Each will have its own team of volunteers and intern support from York’s two Universities while the National Coal Museum for England will be supporting the coalfields research. Apart from searching the archives we will be undertaking oral history interviews with people linked with these histories, many of whom still live in the area and use the path. The children have been tasked with identifying family or neighbours who will be prepared to be interviewed when the new term begins.

Other than that its setting up the paperwork and recruiting a project worker. Time consuming but essential.