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15 Years of Locomotion: The History of the Friends’ North-East Branch

A look over the evolution of the FNRM group, created in 2005.

The branch was created in 2005 by Douglas Hamilton, our first Chair, following a request from the then Chair of the Friends of the National Railway Museum at York. Douglas had a background in civil engineering and up until his retirement had been a senior manager in transport matters at Durham County Council. He was an avid railway enthusiast and excellent networker and we owe him a debt of gratitude for building the solid foundation on which our current group rests.

Those early days we dedicated to setting up the administrative side of the branch, developing relationships with the like-minded railway organisations such as the SLS, RCTS, NERA, the Weardale Railway and of course Locomotion. The well-established Hackworth Society was absorbed into the Friends organisation, too. These relationships have stood the test of time maybe not quite as originally intended for the branch but most are involved in the umbrella organisation which sprung from those early days, the Bishop Line Community Rail Partnership of which Doug was the first Chair also.

Time moved on and Doug stepped down as Chair of the branch and the partnership in 2012. The replacement branch Chair was Dave Camp who took over the reins for the next four years and was a Friends Council member. Under Dave’s chairmanship the branch consolidated its activities on working at and for Locomotion. As well as our regular vehicle cleaning duties, the group undertook all manner of minor works around the museum including gardening, purchasing the last Shildon-built MGR wagon, carring out tours and cab access sessions, cleaning and looking after the Soho Shed during Heritage Open Days, undertaking research and archiving, arranging exhibitions and displays, and arranging a programme of talks at the museum and out in the community.

Dave’s years as Chair will be remembered for his commitment, enthusiasm and humour redefining the role of the branch to concentrate on the work that makes a real difference to the appearance and day-to-day running of the museum. On a lighter note, many will remember his characteristic reticent, shy, diplomatic and non-confrontational style of engagement. And who could forget Dave’s appearance in an elf costume one Christmas.  Why? For elf and safety of course…

In 2016 we elected our new Chair David Wallace, who continues to be our Chair to this day.  Dave Camp soldiered on as our Friends Council representative but relinquished his position last year.

We continue to meet for our regular Tuesday cleaning sessions and help to support the museum when ever we can on other occasions. We enjoy a healthy working relationship with the museum management, staff and its other volunteers. We have regular committee meetings at which the head of museum and the volunteer co-ordinator provide us with up to date information and occasionally ask us for funding. A useful question and answer session usually resolves any queries we may have. Links with the Friends at York are maintained by our secretary, who attends the Friends Executive Committee on the branch’s behalf and the Chair’s reports which are published in the Friend’s Review magazine.

We have about a dozen regular attendees at the Tuesday cleaning sessions and have remained a stable group enjoying each other’s company for the past few years. Over the years, members have come and gone, the most notable being Jane Hackworth-Young (founder member of the former Hackworth Society) who now channels her resources, passion and historical knowledge into the Friends of the Stockton and Darlington Railway.

New members are always welcomed as we are not getting any younger as are new ideas to help to support Locomotion.

Notable events which we have been actively involved in include welcoming Flying Scotsman three times, hosting the Deltic event in 2011, the A4 Great Goodbye in 2014 and the Tim Peake’s Spacecraft exhibition in 2017.

In the 15 years that Locomotion has been in existence we have had three managers, all with their own distinctive style of management, with whom overall we have had good working relationships.

We have also seen the museum establish itself as one of the main visitor attractions in the region whose visitor numbers have increased from the initial assessments of just over 60,000 per year to around 200,000—a magnificent achievement.

And what of the future? We will continue to enthusiastically support the museum, its management, staff and other volunteers to ensure that the aims and objectives of the master plan for the site are realised.

Written by Charlie Walton, Vice Chairman and Secretary of the FNRM NE and FNRM Executive committee member, and Ken Hodgson, FNRM NE Branch committee member, archivist and photographer.

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