AFTER being forced to shut down all their operations earlier this year due to the devastating COVID-19 crisis, there is finally some light at the end of the tunnel for one of the largest and most successful tourist railways in Wales, as their services get back on track with the help of £250,000 from The National Lottery.
When lockdown measures came into effect in March this year, the Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland Railways (F&WHR)in North Wales, along with thousands of other businesses in the tourist sector, were just getting ready to open for what would normally have been the start of their peak season. However, as a result of the COVID-19 global pandemic, they were forced to shut down their operations and instantly had to switch into survival mode.
The Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland Railways (F&WHR) are among a number of heritage railways throughout the UK that have received vital funding from The National Lottery Heritage Fund’s Heritage Emergency Fund. The £50m fund was put together in response to the COVID-19 outbreak to support the heritage sector.
Made possible by National Lottery players, the funding is enabling bills and salaries to be paid and essential repairs and maintenance of tracks, engines and trains to continue. It is also helping organisations look towards reopening for business and getting their volunteers, apprentices and staff back on board.
As lockdown measures eased, services eventually re-commenced on the Ffestiniog Railway on July 20th, and on the Welsh Highland Railway on August 18th, but at a greatly reduced capacity due to carriages having to be adapted and capacity limited due to social distancing guidelines. These restrictions still limit the revenue they are able to generate at this current time.
However, the £250,000 grant from The National Lottery is enabling F&WHR to continue to maintain their heritage buildings, work which had to be suspended at the start of the crisis.
To thank National Lottery players for their support, the first Welsh Highland Railway locomotive to be rolled out since lockdown measures were eased in Wales, has been emblazoned with a special ‘Thank You’ message to all National Lottery players who raise more than £30 million a week for good causes throughout the UK.
Highlighting the importance of The National Lottery funding, the Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland Railways General Manager, Paul Lewin, said:
“Without this funding, we would simply not have been able to afford to continue this highly important work, having effectively lost four months of our high season. The National Lottery Heritage Fund have also been very supportive of our ongoing project to secure the future of the historic railway works site at Boston Lodge by conserving the remaining 19th-century buildings to ensure that they can continue to function effectively into the 21st century. Thanks to the invaluable support of The National Lottery and its players, we are pleased to confirm that this project is continuing unabated, despite the current challenging situation.”
Mr Lewin added:
“COVID-19 brought all our efforts to a rapid and potentially very damaging halt. The additional support of The National Lottery during this emergency means that we can form a plan that sees our business survive the immediate challenges and go on to flourish once more in the future.”
Andrew White, Director of National Lottery Heritage Fund, Wales, said:
“Our heritage railways are totally reliant on the summer months for their income. Lockdown has left many struggling and some facing a bleak future. We’re thankful to be able to support a number of them with emergency funding thanks to National Lottery players, including Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland Railway. The heritage sector is so vital for tourism, jobs and wellbeing as we emerge from this crisis.”
Heritage railways across the UK traditionally attract millions of visitors and passengers every year. They support around 4,000 jobs and contribute some £400million of economic impact to the visitor economy. They also play a key role for apprentices and trainees to learn vital heritage skills. Being forced to shut down during their busiest time of year had a devastating effect on the income of F&WHR.