Bishop of Leeds – heritage railways offer skills and volunteer opportunities for young people

On 6th June 2019 the House of Lords debated a Motion from Lord Faulkner of Worcester, “To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their response to the report of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Heritage Rail, Engaging the Next Generation: Young People and Heritage Railways.” The Bishop of Leeds, Rt Revd Nick Baines, spoke in the debate:

18.12.05 Leeds Brexit deal debate

The Lord Bishop of Leeds: My Lords, while congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, on securing this debate, I must confess to some surprise at standing to speak in it. I have little knowledge or experience of heritage railways, despite having had such a beast going through the village where I was for eight years a vicar in Rothley in Leicestershire and now having several in the diocese of Leeds. I am not proud of my ignorance, but engineering never quite got me; I guess I was more of a media studies man. I fully accept that this probably makes me a rarity among clergy in the Church of England, but I do see the import of this report and fully endorse what this debate seeks to achieve.

Heritage railways seem to hit two nails on the head in a changing Britain where social capital and the development of skills in young people need some investment at all levels. The two nails are volunteering and skills development in team contexts. We know from history and experience that, if you want to get commitment out of children and young people that will shape their adult engagement in the wider world, you need to start them young. Volunteering in a fairly selfish age has to become part of the DNA of people when they are very young, so raising the lower age limit for young people to develop as volunteers—learning skills in basic civil engineering, teamwork, track-laying and so on—is not something to be celebrated. We know that teenage volunteers often train for roles such as assistant guards, station assistants and locomotive cleaners, gaining skills and experience that will shape them for the future.

The culture of safety, as has been mentioned, is essential, but also beneficial to those growing up in it. These young people get to work with the public, learn timekeeping, and learn craft skills including woodwork, painting, metalwork, hedging, land management and so on. Given a school system that often wants to measure results in a limited way, surely these learnings have to be gained outside formal education; such railway environments offer something unique. Young people need to start before they get into GCSEs, exams and the pressures that we all know about. Under-16s have an opportunity here to gain practical and human skills through volunteering in a safety-conscious environment that has purpose and gives satisfaction. Working in teams across all age groups teaches responsibility and helps maturity.

The Employment of Women, Young Persons, and Children Act 1920 was surely once useful and necessary, but it is not the right instrument for today’s world. Our young people do not now need to be protected from industrial exploitation as they did in the past. Surely it is time to lift the current uncertainty over the implementation of this law so that young people can continue to access and benefit from the kind of life experience that heritage railways are uniquely placed to offer.

In Thomas Comes to Breakfast, Thomas the Tank Engine comes out of the repair shop and is not happy. He says, “It’s nice to feel mended again, but they took so many of my old parts away and put new ones in, that I’m not sure whether I’m really me or another engine”. Imagine being the teenager who has the opportunity to cause Thomas the Tank Engine such serious existential angst. We need to encourage our young people.

Lord Snape (Lab): . . . I also take this opportunity to welcome the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds. All too often, these debates are fairly exclusive; I find we are apt to be known as the verbal gricers of the railway industry. Bishops and railways go together quite well, of course. Bishop Eric Treacy was a well-known figure during my time in the railway industry. There was only one line of the right reverend Prelate’s speech with which I might disagree at some future stage. He said that young people do not need protection under the 1920 Act. Of course, he is right as far as the railway industry is concerned, but if this House ever gets around to debating the fast-food industry, I might take issue with him on that point. However, I commend his speech and his contribution today. . . .

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (Lord Ashton of Hyde) (Con): . . .The APPG report outlines in its first recommendation the importance of involving young people in railways; the right reverend Prelate mentioned this, understandably, as did several other noble Lords. My department’s long-term Taking Part survey supports this and shows that if people visit heritage sites while they are of school age, they are more likely to visit as adults. Heritage railway museums are doing well on that score. An impressive 45,000 education group visits were made to the National Railway Museum in York and Locomotion in Shildon in 2018-19—which are part of the Science Museum Group, which is the most-visited group of museums in the UK by education groups. Both those museums offer a schools programme with strong curriculum links and a focus on STEM skills. It would of course be remiss of me as a Culture Minister, especially in this debate, not to be quite clear that we also value the benefits of STEM subjects. . .


%d bloggers like this: