In my mind’s eye I try to picture the kind of railway station I love. It has a kind of rural simplicity. But also a buzz. This station includes people. It may not be a London Euston or a Manchester Piccadilly, but it is still a place where we pass in transit – whether we are on our way to the office or a rugby match or auntie’s house or the other side of the world.

I am trying to turn this idea into something with more shape. I’m writing the first word onto the first blank sheet of paper. Gateway. And this word seeks other words, in an effort to say something precise and uncomplicated. And now I have a sentence. A small gateway to the world. I am struggling with the way this sentence sits with other sentences …

A small gateway to the world. Not another shopping mall. But perhaps a local trading post – with a commitment to not damaging the world. Because when you leave this gateway to travel somewhere, you need to know that you are not damaging the very place that you’re discovering.

I would like the idea contained within these words to be delicious to people. Consider the Café des Fleurs at Rye Station

At Rye Station in Sussex, an empty station building has become a Café and Flower Shop. An old empty building can be a sad place. A deserted railway station after dark or before dawn is especially empty when you have to wait there for a train. It’s not much of an incentive to leave the car at home.

But this café, not designed by Pumpkin Cafes, or Starbucks, but by Lucy Forrester and her gran, opens up early for commuters, serving great coffee and homemade porridge, and very good scrambled eggs on toast. The florists occupy the other side of the cafe, where they make displays for weddings and special events. Local people actually come to the café so that they can watch the flower displays being made. By combining the two business ideas the whole thing becomes viable in a small town.

From Rye, you can travel by rail up north to Yorkshire and the town of Settle – gateway to the legendary Settle and Carlisle Line.

Settle Station was first opened in 1876. It had a Station Master’s house, goods shed, weigh office, cattle dock, signal box and water tank, but goods facilities were dismantled in 1970. Today the station might be too small for the corporates, but it has a ticket office, a shop selling local produce, and a waiting room which is about to become a micro pub, complete with honkytonk piano. A unique community-based company runs the station facilities at Settle and also further along the line at Appleby. The same company operates locally sourced on-train catering, creating jobs and valuable contracts for small suppliers.

If you haven’t been there, you should consider a visit.

And finally to Llandeilo on the Heart of Wales Line

At Llandeilo station there was once a station pub called “The Refresh.” Old locals still remember it with a smile, but the building is long gone. Llandeilo Station has been a lonely platform at the end of a lonely road for a long time.  In my mind’s eye I try to picture the kind of railway station I love. It has a kind of simplicity. An aesthetic.

The Llandeilo “Station Hub” is a small, transportable building with a covered aisle, leading to a modern composting toilet. It was designed along the lines of the old freight wagons and built with FSC Welsh wood by David Bamford and a build team from Presteigne. The idea was to create a space that could be run on a tiny budget, by and for the community.   The design includes a rainwater harvesting system and optional renewable energy unit. The result is a stand alone, multi purpose, mini-building. Not another shopping mall. But rather a gateway with a commitment to not damaging the world. Because when you leave this gateway to travel somewhere else in the world, you need to know that you are not damaging whatever it is you’re discovering.

Already a new company are starting to distribute local and organic produce from the station hub at Llandeilo. And it has recently been shortlisted for a national award for the most enhanced station.

So this has already happened. But what if we built more of these hubs, for other lonely stations, and for other community enterprises? The builders of the Llandeilo Hub are up for it, so the Heart of Wales Line Development Company will help them market this idea to the rail industry. With several stations already expressing an interest, it could just happen.

Written by Rachel Francis

First published in Broad Sheep Magazine and the Weekly Salvo.

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