November 21 2014 Latest news:
Monday, March 3, 2014
It was an impulse buy which led to Mike Urry taking on a disused railway station. Now, five years since he reopened the site to members of the public, it is has become a visitor attraction, meeting point, a festival location and even a wedding venue.
When the Hellesdon businessman bought the Whitwell and Reepham Railway Station, it was in a dilapidated state with the station building overgrown with weeds and boarded up windows, a derelict signal box and a deteriorating track.
It was his wife, Dawn, who first stumbled upon the site while out walking their dog and it was on a whim he decided to buy the station – which came up for auction on his birthday in 2007.
After an all-hands-on-deck operation to reopen the station 50 years after it closed, it reopened in February 2009.
Five years on, and after an investment of at least £250,000, the station is visited by more than 25,000 people a year, its signal box has been restored to its former glory and the third-of-a-mile track has been relaid.
The station has monthly Steam Sunday events and train driver experience days, its own café and bike hire business and has a wedding licence.
People from up and down the country flock to see steam engines Victory and Annie, which is currently being restored, the station’s three diesel engines and the guard’s van, and the station also hosts part of the Reepham Festival.
It also held its own beer festival this weekend as part of its fifth anniversary celebrations. But Mr Urry and his army of dedicated volunteers do not plan to stop there.
Building work will start on the station’s new toilet block within the next couple of months and there are plans in the pipeline to build a permanent building over the existing marquee, extend the track, to convert a carriage into a fine dining carriage and open a library featuring the station’s own collection of 400 train books, complete with touch screen devices to interactively chart the station’s history.
Mr Urry, whose daughter Lesley got married at the station last year, said: “It was a bit bizarre how it all started. I live in Hellesdon and I’ve got some businesses in Lenwade. I had developed an interest in Norwich City station through to Lenwade. My wife used to walk our dog from Attlebridge Station to Lenwade but she got a bit bored so she decided to walk from Whitwell to Lenwade.
“The station then came up for auction on my birthday and I was in a financial position to be able to buy it. I didn’t know why I was doing it – I was drawn to do it.”
He added: “Everything is really positive and if you asked me where we would be in five years time when we first opened, I wouldn’t have imagined this.
“We’ve been guided by our customers with them asking can we do this and can we hold that. We’ve helped the local economy and I’m immensely pleased. It couldn’t have happed without the volunteers. We are all singing from the same song sheet.”
Whitwell Station has a team of about 15 volunteers who are there the majority of the time with a further 40 who help out once a week and another 20 they can call on for special events. The bar and café is open from 5pm to 8pm every day and from 10am to 8pm at weekends.
It runs as a registered charity and is self-sustaining with all the money raised ploughed back into the venue.
Over the years, it has received grants from the Low Carbon Communities Challenge Fund and Reepham Town Council and it has received donations of materials and railyard scrap from Kier, Sainsbury’s and other stations.
Keith Monument, 68, from Thorpe St Andrew near Norwich, has volunteered at Whitwell since Mr Urry bought the station. The widower, who has been interested in railways since he was six years old and worked on prestigious buildings including the Ritz and Waldorf hotels as a carpenter, said: “It is nice to be part of a heritage project. We won’t get it back to how it used to be but we’re getting close.”
The station needs more volunteers to enable it to increase its café opening times. To find out more about volunteering at Whitwell Station, go to www.whitwellstation.com
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