The Trust, a registered charity, owns the Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland Railways that run steam trains between Caernarfon and Blaenau Ffestiniog via Porthmadog in Snowdonia.
The project ‘Taith in Treftadaeth / Our Heritage Journey’ has been given a 'round one' pass by the HLF which means The Trust can now progress to the next stage of the HLF application process to secure funding. It has up to two years to submit more detailed plans and apply for the £332,200 of HLF support they are seeking for the £531,878 project.
Plans include providing equipment and materials for a major volunteer initiative to uncover, restore and interpret the railway’s heritage including many of its historic boundary walls and fences. Volunteers will be trained in conservation skills as well as tour guides to help bring the railway’s heritage back to life.
Dr John Prideaux, chairman of the Ffestiniog Railway Trust, says: "The funding will mainly be aimed at facilitating this work, to be performed almost entirely by volunteers. The Ffestiniog Railway Trust is aware of the vital contribution that our volunteers play in keeping the railway running and without whom the substantial contribution of around £15 million a year and more than 400 direct and indirect jobs that the railway makes to the local economy would not be possible.
"Volunteers take part because they find the railway worthwhile, and because they enjoy being part of a community of like minded people. Those volunteers have produced a quality of input that no enterprise of the size of our railway could normally attract let alone afford. Maintaining and developing the volunteer resource and its skills is a key objective for the years to come. This project aims to enthuse our volunteers anew and motivate new people of all ages to join in."
Plans also include the employment of an education and heritage officer to help schools, learners and visitors get the most out of their visit. Informal and enjoyable learning for visitors of all ages will be at the heart of the project, and this will extend to the railway's volunteer workforce. It is hoped more local people will be encouraged to join the volunteer workforce and play a part in their local heritage whilst learning new skills and meeting new people.
The project also aims to develop Minffordd and Dinas Stations as 'signing on points' for educational visits. Minffordd will be developed as a heritage centre where visitors will be able to view historic railway items dating back to the 1830s.
Adds Dr Prideaux: "Every visitor on our railway is celebrating the unique Welsh achievement in the invention of the steam narrow gauge railway. But the railway is not just for visitors. This aspect of local history draws in people from all over the world and helps maintain our local community’s special identity and language and this project is something all local people can get involved in”.
Jennifer Stewart, Head of Heritage Lottery Fund Wales, added: "This project aims to restore this historic and unique railway and improve the visitor experience through training local people. The increased skilled volunteer base will help ensure the railway’s future sustainability which is an important tourism attraction for the area. As such we have warded a development grant in recognition of the project’s potential and the benefits it could bring to the community."