Youth volunteering – how I got involved at the GWSR aged 14


A picture I took the first time I visited the GWSR at Winchcombe during the 175 Gala

Right, so Simon of Brookes Castle contacted me suggesting I could write a bit about how someone as young as me gets involved in volunteering at a railway. I’ll be writing a bit more about what I do in the future, but that side is covered very well on our own blog, which I linked to further down the page. Hopefully I can find some other bits and bobs to contribute too, historical, preserved and model railways. So, here are my experiences…

My name is Alex, I’m now 15 years old and I have been volunteering in the carriage and wagon department at Winchcombe on the Gloucestershire Warwickshire steam railway (GWSR) for just over a year. I’ve been interested in steam railways ever since I could remember, of course stemming from the good Rev’s books, and first discovered the heritage scene through the SVR in a summer holidays trip with my grandparents. I then became aware of the GWSR when it held its gwr 175 event in 2010 and also a school trip, which I thought was birthday and Christmas rolled into one – spending a day on a railway as opposed to school! After that I was a regular visitor, even when the railway was in bits.

In early 2013 I had just begun my bronze duke of Edinburgh and was looking for a volunteering placement. It was only on the off chance that I sent an enquiry in to the website asking if it would be possible to help in any way, even if it was with my Dad, who is also interested in steam (I come from a long line of railway people- and I have at least two relations who drove for the Southern, one for the London underground back in steam days and one for the LNER). Looking at the volunteering pages on the website, I found the carriage and wagon (C+W) department. This seemed perfect, for a start there was no roster so I wouldn’t have to commit to certain days too far in advance, meaning I wouldn’t have to worry if I had a busy weekend with family or friends etc. I also found a blog on the activities at C+W which was very interesting, leading me to other blogs for various departments around the railway Next thing I knew I was having a tour of the workshops from the volunteer liaison in the dept. Dave Clark, who was very friendly and encouraging towards me.

Image Me painting the Monster van

I began in the cold month of February painting, although undercover, only in the barn (the outer building of the C+W works) so no heating. But no matter, I was volunteering on a railway! Through the weeks I turned up almost every morning up until lunchtime painting my first wagon, a vehicle codenamed by the gwr MONSTER, take a guess why! During the next few weeks and months, I worked my way through the lower parts of what I refer to as the painting ranks. These go as follows in my mind; undercoat freight, topcoat freight, lettering freight, bottom coat coaches, undercoat coaches, topcoat coaches, lining out, and finally varnish. After a couple of months at this, and finally being given the honour of painting the lettering on a GW toad van, Dave promoted me to coach painting. Here I really learnt how to paint, there is a certain skill involved with the final flick of the brush barely touching the paint. Some railways spray their coaches, but everyone here agrees that brush painting gives a much nicer finish, and is a little more personal.


Undercoating in chocolate

All of the things I described above are things I still do, I am quite happy doing anything, from filling and sanding to the more prestigious painting and lining. Recently I have been helping with the monumental task of painting the walls, ceiling and floors in our new workshops, really helping with our carriage restorations, but hard work doing three coats of paint on huge walls of blocks! The opportunities it has given me have been brilliant, learning a lot about how a heritage railway operates as a whole has been interesting, and of course helping in my own way has been very enjoyable. The flexibility has been brilliant too, many people think they don’t have the time to help out, but really, even if it is only a few days a year (and some people do) it all helps, and wherever you go I’m sure you will be most welcome. Most railways have a website, get in touch and find out what you can do. Even if you are not an adult it is still worth enquiring as to how you can help like I did, I was pleasantly surprised by what I was allowed to do in our health and safety dominated culture.


Splodging filler everywhere!

So go on, stop reading this (though I hope you’ve found it useful) get out and find out how you can help! On the GWSR we are in desperate need of OTC people, people to man the shops etc. and even more people during special events, car parking duties, elves, anything. Many heritage railways give you a bonus for volunteering; I get unlimited travel on the GWSR and six other railways around the country all for a morning of my time a week. And finally, even if you decide you really don’t have time, or even if you do, you can still help financially. Every railway needs more money, and the GWSR is no exception (hint hint, plug plug). Currently we are extending to Broadway, for that we need an estimated £1.5 million; 500,000 for the track, 500,000 for the station buildings, and currently in a share offer (30% tax relief!) 500,000 for the five bridges needing repairing to get there (info on the GWSR website) I’ll write a little more on GWSR fundraising another time, but those are the links, please take a look!


5 thoughts on “Youth volunteering – how I got involved at the GWSR aged 14

  1. Thanks Simon, I think I might write a little about what happens to a coach from when it comes in at one end of our workshops to when it comes out the other, might be insightful to those who just look at the locos or worse still look at the carriages and turn their noses up. Well it’ll be more interesting for me to write than history essays anyway…


    • That would be very interesting to read! Carriages are sometimes overlooked it seems espically by the tourists who visit the lines as people are most interested in the thing that is pulling them 🙂


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