Eye –sore to pride and joy: the transformation of Goldthorpe Railway Embankment

The Dearne Valley Landscape Partnership has supported community volunteers, school children, contractors and councilors all working together to improve Goldthorpe Railway Embankment.

The Dearne Valley Landscape Partnership has supported community volunteers, school children, contractors and councilors all working together to improve Goldthorpe Railway Embankment.

Dearne North Councillor, Pauline Phillips describes the change:
“It used to be knee deep in rubbish and now there are bluebells there…the site has been totally transformed… it feels so good to be a part of it!
The Challenge

Goldthorpe embankment used to be part of a railway network that supported the coal mining industry. When the mines closed, the tracks were taken up and the unused cuttings, (running through Goldthorpe) became heavily fly-tipped and graffitied. BBC Look North reported on the issue in 2013 BBC Look North Goldthorpe Cuttings

Finding a community based solution

Goldthorpe Development Group was instrumental in helping to start local action. Four bridges were painted improving the look of the area and the installation of CCTV and fencing also began to reduce fly-tipping. The Goldthorpe Railway Embankment Group (GREG) was created to explore if the cuttings could be further improved and reimagined by the community as a neighbourhood resource. [1]1 In 2016 GREG commissioned students from Sheffield School of Architecture to creatively deliver community consultation.  Liane Holdsworth, DVLP Partnership Manager, explains how this helped bring the community together for a common cause:

“It started with a big, exciting vision for wildlife, for people and for improving access. It got community groups thinking big. We can do this.”
Goldthorpe Railway Cuttings

  • Between 2017 and May 2019: 134 volunteers gave 326 hours
  • A whopping 146 bags of rubbish were cleared from the site
  • A 137 metre long path has been constructed making the leafy glade along the embankment floor accessible to all
  • Multiple community, council and business groups have coordinated their efforts to work together.

Strategic input helps make community ideas happen

From 2016, the Dearne Valley Landscape Partnership provided funding, training and ecological advice to GREG. Liane Holdsworth describes the DVLP’s role ‘one of the guiding hands’ – giving support and direction to community, council and business partners involved.  The Partnership team worked closely with Claire Dawson, Dearne Area Council Manager; collaborating on ideas for a forward-looking, community focused site. Liane credits Claire’s ability to listen to members of the community and understand their needs, as making a big difference to the project’s impact. Claire described the DVLP as ‘ace with ideas’

Different Dearne Valley Landscape Partnership funding strands were brought together to create one whole project to complement other funding and support. This consisted of:

·       Improvements to accessibility – £17,000 (managing sites and accessibility budgets) matched with £55,000 Section 106 and Local Area Council funding

·       Installation of Fencing – £3,500 (accessibility budget)

·       Orchard planting and hedge laying – circa. £2,500 (managing sites budget)

·       Development of interpretation, panels and memorial – c. £3,200 (signposting budget)

·       Production of learning resources (currently in production) – £1,500 (learning budget)

Wildlife and the community recolonize the cutting!

Hours of work by community volunteers and Twiggs Ground Maintenance team cleared rubbish and overgrowth from the site. DVLP funding provided 137 metres of accessible path down the steep-sided slopes of the embankment into the cleared leafy glade below. Fencing was put up and painted to deter fly tipping.

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The number of different people in this photograph reflects the range of groups involved at Golthorpe Railway Cuttings. Community group members, local volunteers, school children, council workers and DVLP , Network Rail, Tesco and Twiggs Ground Maintenance staff hold up the Goldthorpe Railway cuttings banner.

Ecological surveys revealed the biodiversity opportunities of the site. The local community actively used information from the surveys to benefit wildlife, for example school children created a wildlife habitat wall and put up bird boxes. 900 young Hawthorn trees were planted and local volunteers and children learnt how to plant and maintain hedges on the site. In July 2018, Chris Warton, a teacher at Goldthorpe Primary school wrote on the School’s Eco News webpage:

“We are proud to be working on the railway cuttings project, which will be a great resource for everyone in the community.”

Wildlife wall and bird boxes. Credit: Twiggs Grounds Maintenance Ltd.  Copyright Twiggs Grounds Maintenance Ltd

A community orchard has been created.   Local school children planted apple, sloe, and pear trees, helping them feel connected to the site’s future. The decision to shape an optimistic future was in light of the tragic history of the cuttings. In 1985, during the miner’s strike, two young brothers were killed at Goldthorpe, picking for coal fallen from colliery trains.  The boys’ sister approached GRC asking if a memorial could be created. Funds from the DVLP’s Art strand purchased a stone for the orchard which was engraved by a local stone mason with an apple and the words of ‘Barnsley Bard’, poet Ian MacMillan. Ian worked with the boys’ family on the words:

 “Stand here and remember a time not so long ago,  

then stand here and face the future as the apples grow.”

The Transformation

This project has transformed the physical landscape of Goldthorpe Railway Embankment. But it has also made a big impact on the people involved in it. Liane Holdsworth says she ‘explodes with joy’ when she thinks about what the project has achieved; both for the community and for wildlife.  To Liane, the project: ‘embodies just about everything we [DVLP] do.’

Paul Coffel from Network Rail (site owners)

 “The community group gets more and more members from the town involving themselves and it is obvious to me that they are all proud of their contributions. The site has gone from an eyesore to a well-kept community garden which looks great now and will only improve as each new season comes. I am proud to be part of the journey that the community group have been on.”

The new entrance sign to the Railway Cuttings shows the large number of community, council and business partners who have worked together to improve the cuttings.