Chairman of The Heritage Alliance Loyd Grossman presented the Award, which was established to celebrate the outstanding contribution to society made by heritage volunteers across the country; 423,000 (1.1 per cent of the adult population) of whom give their time each year to look after our irreplaceable national heritage, so the public can continue to enjoy it and the economy can continue to benefit from it. Each year this army of heritage volunteers gives around 58.5 million unpaid hours to society, which equates to a notional value of £335million .
Joint winners of the Award are the volunteers of the Ffestiniog & Welsh Highland Railways, whose quarter of a century long project to restore the steam-hauled Welsh Highland Railway has resulted in a world-class heritage and tourist attraction, which is making a major economic contribution to the local community of Gwynedd.
Between 1997 and 2011 over one thousand local volunteers have contributed their time, expertise and money towards gradually reconstructing and reopening the line. Skilled professionals have contributed their time pro bono – from legal advice, to civil engineering expertise; volunteers have turned out every weekend for four years, come rain come shine, to lay the final 20km of track from Rhyd Ddu to Porthmadog; and volunteers support the paid staff in all aspects of operating the train service throughout the year.
Their outstanding effort has created Britain's longest heritage railway, stretching 40km between Caernarfon and Porthmadog, which research indicates is contributing at least £15m a year to the Welsh economy.
On receiving on behalf of all the volunteers the Award from Loyd Grossman at the Alliance's annual Heritage Day on 8 December, volunteer Andy Savage said:
“We're really delighted to receive this Award in recognition of two decades of hard work from a vast group of volunteers. Their effort has preserved the railway for all to enjoy, and means it can again make a major contribution to the economy of North Wales.”
Joint winner of the Award was Inayat Omarji, who's spent the last seven years volunteering his time to help develop a major project to regenerate the Grade II* listed All Souls Church in Crompton, Bolton, into a sustainable community asset for the benefit of local people. The All Souls Community Centre Trust, of which Inayat is Chairman, worked tirelessly with the local community and the Churches Conservation Trust to develop a successful bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund, which will enable this much-loved local landmark to house a ‘pod' creating a modern, multi-functional community centre. Thanks in large part to Inayat's passion and commitment building work will begin in January 2012. The new All Souls will play host to library facilities, an adult education programme, support services for job seekers, community business services, after-school clubs, arts and cultural activities, support services for the elderly, and health classes; for all the people of Bolton - of all faiths or none. The Trust expects to open the new centre to the community in summer 2013.
Alliance Chairman Loyd Grossman commented:
“I'm thrilled to present the Heritage Alliance Hero Award to two such inspiring winners. Ffestiniog & Welsh Highland Railways and All Souls Bolton are two outstanding examples of the power of our heritage to deliver important benefits to local communities. They paint a picture of the many thousands of enterprising volunteer-led heritage initiatives underway up and down the country, ensuring our past continues to make a valuable contribution to our future.”
Around two thirds of the historic environment in Britain is supported, managed or owned by non-government heritage bodies, voluntary organisations or privately. The work of these organisations, groups and individuals benefits not only local communities through improved quality of life , but also local businesses and the wider economy through tourism - which contributes £20.6 billion to UK GDP per year and is expected to continue to grow.
Find out more about the work of The Heritage Alliance and its members here: www.theheritagealliance.org.uk