Poppleton Community Railway Nursery (PCRN) is a charity that was set up to restore the former railway nursery at Poppleton Station near York. The site is next to the station, on the York to Harrogate line.

This is a working nursery. Produce and plants are sold to the general public and to railway stations and other organisations across the region. It’s a hive of activity all year round and the workforce are voluntary, multi-skilled, with a management team and a number of partner projects. Profits are ploughed back into the regeneration of the nursery.

Poppleton Nursery aims to maintain the historic features, gardens, narrow-gauge railway and the ‘story’ of railway nurseries for the general public. The project has been able to bring in all kinds of people and organisations to get involved with gardening, sales of produce, railway activities and hands-on projects. A key partnership from the outset has been with the NHS via Paul Botting, who is a horticultural therapist.

Paul: “The nursery is a place that allows people to develop. It’s not too parental, reasonable risks are taken – I think this is why many people undergoing therapy stay on at Poppleton after their therapy program is finished. You can see them flourish here. You need places like this for people’s stability.”

Poppleton partners a number of companies who support the project through practical involvement and team building projects on site. Jo Sullivan: “One group were with us for 3 days as part of a ‘Community Challenge’ arranged by York Cares. They transformed the seating area in our garden and now we have a place for people to sit out in the summer, all beautifully paved. We would like to increase the opportunities for corporate organisations to take part in volunteer programmes.”

The nursery was originally built to grow vegetables for railway hotels and refreshment rooms during the war. Later it grew plants for station displays, events and landscaping but closed as a commercial venture in 2006 and soon became overgrown. 

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In 2008 Community Rail’s Paul Salveson was concerned about the future of the nursery and suggested it could be used for community purposes. This group formed a not for profit company, which obtained charitable status in 2012.  The site is leased from Network Rail at a peppercorn rent.

Today the project provides work for a large number of regional volunteers, including people who have mental health issues and in the past this has included very successful work with people on probation. The presence of people on probation caused some consternation in the locality – but really only from a few people living adjacent to the nursery and it was not based on any actual problems.

What advice would you give to others considering a similar project?

Be prepared to work at it. Don’t give up at the first hurdle. Be tenacious. It’s a lot about getting the right people and being proactive about forming new partnerships.

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