IT was a proud day for the 900 volunteers of Gloucestershire Warwickshire Steam Railway on Monday when their freely-given time was recognised with the Queen's Award for Voluntary Service.
The volunteers give thousands of hours of their time each week to help run and grow the popular steam railway in the Cotswolds. They received their honour from Dame Janet Trotter, Lord Lieutenant for Gloucestershire at a ceremony at Toddington Station.
The railway is one of just three voluntary organisations in Gloucestershire to have won the award this year, out of 187 charities, social enterprises and voluntary groups nationwide to also have been honoured.
Dame Janet's first task on arrival at Winchcombe station was to formally opened the railway’s new Discovery Coach which imaginatively presents the history of the railway and its local context.
She then boarded a steam train to Toddington, along with GWSR officials and guests. After touring the locomotive restoration facilities she mounted steps to the footplate of the latest locomotive to be restored at Toddington, to announce the citation. Around 200 volunteers were able to attend the ceremony and witness the presentation of the Queen's Award and a certificate to Alan Bielby, chairman of Gloucestershire Warwickshire Steam Railway.
Dame Janet said that the selection committee had ‘no hesitation’ in making the award to the railway’s volunteers, noting how impressed she was with the scale of the operation and all that it had achieved.
Since 1982, when the embryonic GWSR first took occupation of a derelict Toddington station yard and fifteen miles of vacant trackbed, after British Railways closed the line in 1979 and removed the track and infrastructure, it has steadily grown to become one of the leading tourist attractions in the Cotswolds and Gloucestershire.
Mr Bielby said: “We have won many awards over the years but the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service - often called the MBE for volunteers - is by far the most prestigious and the most meaningful.
“It is a testament to our volunteers, past and present, for all that they have contributed to making this railway such a success. It’s the envy of many other heritage railways because it remains almost entirely volunteer run.”
Other guests included Vice Lord Lieutenant Robert Bernays, Air Marshal Sir David Walker, Colonel Mike Bennett, Sir William and Lady McAlpine and actors and Cotswolds residents Timothy West and Prunella Scales, who are both patrons of the railway. There were also representatives of the boroughs and districts through which the line passes, or will pass in the future.
The railway’s volunteers are currently extending the railway northwards towards Broadway, where a new station is being built on the site of the original, which closed in 1960. Reaching Broadway, which is expected in 2017, will extend the line to 14 miles, from Cheltenham Racecourse. The railway will be launching an appeal for £1m early next year to raise the final amount of money needed to complete this extension.