Shortage of volunteers

Discussion in 'Railtours & Preservation' started by bionic, 22 Aug 2019.

  1. bionic

    bionic Member

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    I was interested to read this article about heritage railways shortage of volunteers. It surprises me they are short of volunteer steam drivers as they all seem to advertise driver experience days at eye-watering prices, which suggests to me that they must be popular. I certainly wouldnt have thought they would struggle to fill those posts.

    https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/20...age-britains-heritage-railways-call-goes-new/

    I guess the reason the demographic is so old is because most younger people are too busy working.
     
    Last edited: 22 Aug 2019
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  3. YorkshireBear

    YorkshireBear Established Member

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    The demands on modern life are so different that people do not have the same amount of disposable time. The expectations are just so much greater.
     
  4. Journeyman

    Journeyman Established Member

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    There's a big difference between driving a train once, for fun, and doing it regularly, in all weathers, for no pay. On my local railway, steam crews are involved in firing up locos from cold which means a VERY early start. Even in summer, that isn't much fun, and not possible for a lot of people to do regularly, with family and work commitments.

    Many of the most active volunteers in preservation are people who retired in their fifties on good pensions, who have the time, resources and health to be active on a regular basis. As they get older, they can do less, and many working people now won't retire until they're over 70.
     
  5. Shenandoah

    Shenandoah Member

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    I agree that those volunteering as drivers of steam locos must, without doubt, do it for love. It is hard and long work.
    Noticeable this year has been a few preserved lines that have curtailed or cancelled services due to lack of operational volunteers. Shortage of back room boys usually can be overcome - it isn't necessary to have people stood around watching trains come and go. While diverse staff training is really needed, some volunteers only want to do certain jobs and often this is due to capabilities and age. It does seem that heritage lines have to start considering their future staffing arrangements.
     
  6. Journeyman

    Journeyman Established Member

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    I think there might have to be a move away from volunteering to paying staff instead, although that will massively increase running costs.
     
  7. Serathor

    Serathor Member

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    Being made to feel welcome is also a big must.

    I have had the misfortune of giving up my weekend for something I am deeply interested in. Only to work alongside one of the most rudest people I could ever meet who was so rude to the younger/newer volunteers (myself included) not been given anything interesting to do (Loco maintenance, track repairs etc which there was plenty of and what I specifically asked to do) was offensive and rude when I was trying to follow procedure on level crossing duty, and then being accused of things going missing and no apology when they turned up later after being miss placed. ... if your face didn't fit you where not made to feel welcome.

    So I put my name down for crossing keeper. one weekend I could not make it and I gave them 2 weeks notice. two days later after the weekend in question I got a phone call asking why I didn't turn up and why I let them down etc etc. So I re-forwarded the email (with their non automated reply acknowledging my absence) to them. And not so much an apology ...... I was so let down and disheartened. I never went back. although I still love the place.
    I don't care if someone from there works out who I am referring too or that I am talking about their organisation. I should have complained at the time, However I was so upset i did not. I hope things change in the future because I really want to volunteer there and spend my weekends doing this. however I am doubtful.
     
    Last edited: 22 Aug 2019
  8. trebor79

    trebor79 Member

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    I volunteered years ago, as a teenager, and loved it. Did engine repairs, fired and drove both steam and diesel.
    Wife and family prevents any of that now. I'd volunteer again in the future but I'd chose carefully. Lots of places, as alluded to in the article, expect newbies to do years of drudgery before graduating to footplate work. As though it's some way of adding authenticity to the operation. They wouldn't get me services.
    The place I volunteered at, so long as you did your but in other areas (I chose the loco workshop) in the winter, you got a decent stab at footplate work in the operating period. Sure, started as a cleaner but that for me on the footplate all day and a bit of shovel time. Within a year I was firing with a bit of driving and by the following year driving. In practice fireman and driver shared duties (although I always got more enjoyment from firing so was secretly pleased if there was a miserable sod who wanted to be glued to the regulator all day).
    Learnt a lot and the guys showed a lot of trust in me when I showed up as a pimply 16 year old saying I wanted to volunteer. They were understandably circumspect at first but soon took me under their wing.
    Reading volunteering appeals on preserved lone websites it sounds like you'll be stuck on a crossing, doing gardening or cleaning engines away from the public eye for years before you do anything fun. They need to share it out a bit of my generation are going to get involved, especially with modern expectations of family time etc, if you're giving up time it needs to be rewarding.
     
  9. Serathor

    Serathor Member

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    I never minded doing all the "boring stuff" I did all the shampooing of the DMU seats, Painting loco pipes (which I loved doing) and anything I was asked to do, I did with a smile and without moaning about it. However I was made to feel like being there was to much hassle for everyone else. And this particular individual I was astonished at how rude someone can be.

    I really enjoyed doing the level crossing duties (a 100 mile round trip for me from my home, on a Saturday and Sunday) we had a PAYG mobile phone system and the procedure was to report to base if the credit on the phone was < £5. I did this and this particular individual who answered the phone retorted "what the ..... are you telling me for?".... I was simply following procedure, and then when questioned why I didn't turn up in a separate weekend (despite giving 2 weeks notice, and receiving a acknowledgement) I concluded I was not required.
     
    Last edited: 22 Aug 2019
  10. Steamie Boxes

    Steamie Boxes Member

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    As a volunteer myself at Ravenglass, the volunteering officers are very friendly. You can do whatever work you like but can only start working on locomotive footplates after certain number of years guarding
     
  11. UP13

    UP13 Member

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    I would happily volunteer if it wasn't for my career, small children and playing rugby most Saturdays. I would happily volunteer at somewhere like the Watercress once my kids are older and I'm unable to play rugby anymore.

    Interesting it says shortage of drivers - I thought they'd have the problem of all volunteers wanting to be drivers and nobody wanting to do the 'unsexy' jobs.
     
  12. Edders23

    Edders23 Member

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    many people who volunteer want it to be a nice fit into their lives so working in a charity shop for say 3 to 4 hours starting at 10am or helping out at a day centre one day in the week. Heritage railways by their nature are WEEKEND operations when most people expect to be out and about doing family oriented activities and not starting at the sort of time they used to before retirement

    You would have to be an enthusiast to want to do it and some railways are successful at getting volunteers but not all. There are preservation groups needing volunteers at weekends to maintain and restore stock as well as model railways which many an enthusiast also indulges in so there are many competing hobbies

    that so many heritage railways exist and can run descent timetables is down to hard work recruiting but the appeal needs to be there for people to take it up
     
  13. Alanko

    Alanko Member

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    My workplace offers a couple of volunteering days a year as protected leave. Beyond this, I know of many millennials who volunteer for various causes. I also know plenty of millennials who don't have kids and who easily have the free time to spend one day a weekend working on a railway.

    I think the bigger issue is our move away from manufacturing towards a mostly service-sector orientated culture. My job doesn't give me the sort of skills I can deploy on a heritage railway in my free time. I would wager that most people in their 30s and 40s simply aren't 'handy' enough. The engine in my car is hidden under a black plastic cover. I don't spend my free time spannering my car, and I don't know anybody who does either. A few decades ago this seems to have been a fairly common past time for many. Lots of people pick up cars on PCP contracts now in part because you can whine at somebody the second anything goes wrong! Haynes now publish novelty manuals for Vulcan Bombers and fictional spacecraft for this reason.

    I can wield a soldering iron and various hand tools, and even that makes me a minority in my friend circle! I'm working towards getting better at working brass, I can build the parts I need out of plastic, and I'm no good with wood! I know one guy who scales mobile phone masts for a living but, beyond him, nobody I know my age (30s) has a job that involves the use of tools. To these people the railways is a fairly unglamorous means of getting from one place to another.
     
  14. Cowley

    Cowley Established Member

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    Very good points Alanko.
    Thinking about it, in a roundabout kind of way it was helping to paint mk1 and mk2 coaches in Ropley shed as a teenager and the encouragement and enjoyment I got from it that led me to eventually becoming a self employed painter.
     
  15. theblackwatch

    theblackwatch Emeritus Moderator

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    I note that the Spa Valley Railway will not be operating tomorrow due to a shortage of volunteers. From its website at https://www.spavalleyrailway.co.uk/

     
  16. Monty

    Monty Established Member

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    I've decided to volunteer at the Swanage Railway as a guard, which is an area they experiencing a shortage of at the moment. It would be easy to sign up to locomotive department with the long term aspiration of working on the footplate. But I have decided to use my professional experience for their benefit. When I first visited for an initial informal chat I had absolutely no idea how short they were and how over time the older generation have had to stop because of their age and medical reasons. I strongly urge anyone who is able to contribute to their local preserved railway to do so.
     
  17. Cowley

    Cowley Established Member

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    Good work Monty.
     
  18. YorkshireBear

    YorkshireBear Established Member

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    Absolutely, I agree. I too chose to ignore any aspiration for what I wanted to do and serve with my area of expertise. Especially as a civil engineer in rail, not many of them about with time to give to a heritage railway, so I had to put any operational aspirations on a back burner.

    I do however find it incredibly rewarding. Would encourage anyone to try help out, even if just a few days a year.
     
  19. underbank

    underbank Established Member

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    Likewise. Just because "in the old days" you started your career at 14 cleaning the locos at 4am, then after many years, you were promoted to firing for many years, and finally made driver when middle aged, a few heritage railways apply the same practices which really does put people off. There's no reason at all why you can't become a driver much quicker with far less hard work and time - it doesn't need to be a lifetimes' work! Unfortunately, people still have that perception, not helped by the railways themselves. I asked about volunteering at the only one near me and the impression I got was that it would be a decade or so before I would be "promoted" to anything important like a guard or driver or signalman, and that I'd have to do a lot of drudgery work in the intervening years, such as cleaning etc. It was a real put-off. I'd happily do the drudgery if there was an end in sight and it was realistically short and relevant, but a decade or so is simply far too long for someone already middle aged wanting something to do during semi retirement!

    When they found out I was an accountant, they were desperate for me to volunteer to work in the ticket office or do admin, but after a lifetime of office work, there was no way I was going to do it unpaid in retirement too!
     
  20. Belperpete

    Belperpete Member

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    It does take appreciable time and effort to train newcomers, and it can be a bit dispiriting to supervise someone doing a task that you know you could do far better yourself. It can also be frustrating as a number are likely to drop out. I can also understand why some volunteers may be reluctant to do it, as the newcomer once qualified will be taking some of the turns, leaving less for you. However, training is a vital part of any role. When you are passed out to do a particular duty then (after a suitable time to settle into the role) you should be expected to help train new recruits - it is the payback for the time and effort that others put into training you.

    Fortunately, the railway that I "work" for has long had an active programme of recruiting new, young volunteers. However, that was not always the case. It is easy to become complacent, thinking that you have sufficient people to cover a role - it only needs a few changes of circumstances to totally change the situation. As I said above, it takes time and effort to train people, and it becomes harder to afford that extra time and effort when you are already short of staff. Railways need to be recruiting the new blood BEFORE they become short-staffed.

    The other point I would make, contrary to what one poster said, is that most preserved railways are NOT just weekend affairs. They need volunteers during the week, not just at weekends.
     
  21. James H

    James H Member

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    Realted feature in the Guardian
    https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news...team-railways-seek-next-generation-of-drivers
     
  22. Adlington

    Adlington Member

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    It's not hopeless (maybe....)
    .
     
  23. trebor79

    trebor79 Member

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    "Working towards being a cleaner"! There won't be many up for that.
     
  24. Adlington

    Adlington Member

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    A few paragraphs earlier it says "The career progression is the same as it was in the golden age of steam. You start as a cleaner". Zero out of ten for consistency.
     
  25. Dave1987

    Dave1987 Established Member

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    My cousin started volunteering at a steam railway many years ago. He started at a 'cleaner' on the shed and was extremely enthusiastic about it. After a few years he gave up and couldn't be bothered with it any longer. I was curious as to why because he had been so enthusiastic about it when he started. It turns out that the steam railway had taken his time and his enthusiasm completely for granted. He said that he was expected to be there in the morning before the engines departed to make them all shiny and still be there at the end of the day to clean up all the rubbish after the days running. He said he was never offered any kind of progression and could not see the point in getting filthy dirty to not see any hope of getting on the footplate any time soon. Basically the steam railway had a huge amount of drivers and firemen on the books as volunteers and they didn't want younger people taking their turns off of them. Anyway articles like this make me chuckle. They have lost a highly motivated individual who was keen to learn because they did not want him taking turns off of their older seasoned drivers and firemen. I don't think there would be much chance of him going back as he now. I very much hope that that railway is one of the ones who is now short of 'new blood'. Serves them right.
     
  26. 433N

    433N Member

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    To be fair, this isn't unique to railways. I've volunteered quite a bit in my time, from running kid's football to archiving at a museum. I never particularly wanted any recognition for it but when people start taking the proverbial, it starts to grind at you and you think 'why am I doing this ?'.

    I'd like to volunteer at a railway. I'm above average working with my hands. I could probably afford the time ... but I'm a bit 'volunteered out'.
     
  27. dakta

    dakta Member

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    It isn't unique to railways, though I think some with 'active volunteer management' systems in place are more likely to bring and retain more volunteers.

    I'd love to volunteer again, but found groups quite hard to break into and never really knew what to do or had the freedom to try much. I am a bit socially awkward so it was always going to be a challenge and found myself volunteering on and off and on and off again, never really managed to feel at home with it, though I'd do it again with the right people/environment in a heartbeat.

    In contrast, tried gliding for some time to burn up some unused cash a few years ago and found it quite different, the instructors/members at the particular club i ended up with were all very sociable, outgoing and it was hard to not be involved, you were either flying or taking part of prep to get someone else flying, a lot of the jobs were quite boring I guess in isolation but the day as a whole was always quite fun.

    Be quite a nice little thing if it wasn't for my fear of heights!

    Always a balance between fun and not so fun jobs and also matching existing skills vs the practicilities of getting new ones, it can easily lead to people getting stuck in a rut and I think that would turn a few people off
     
  28. sciisfun

    sciisfun Member

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    I went to volunteer at a local line down here in Devon, however, they weren't interested in me as the area I wanted to get into (engineering) wanted 4 days a week of volunteering. This limits it to only retirees and part time employees, which I think limits the inflow of new volunteers. I was happy to give up most of my weekends (other than when camping with the scout troop I'm with) but got nothing, never even phoned me back offering any sort of position!
    (For reference I am a fully qualified aerospace engineer and trainee Bus and Coach mechanic, so it wouldn't be too much of an issue to take me on in that area)
     
  29. Ian Smeeton

    Ian Smeeton Member

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    I dropped in to my local preserved railway last August. After enquiring, membership was the same price as two adults admission, so we took out membership, meaning we could go at any time over the course of the next few months.

    On my form, I indicated an interest in volunteering, and was contacted within a few days to see what I was interested in, and where they could use me.

    Since then, I have become a regular loco cleaner and relief fireman, but I am just as happ to push a lawn mower around for a few hours, or to man the admissions desk.

    We are only a very small outfit, and , technically, a museum of the local ironstone industry which just happens to have a railway, but I thoroughly enjoy my one or two days per month down there.

    I would encourage anyone who is keen to perhaps look at the smaller venues, rather than the well-established larger establishments to get a foot in the door with a wide variety of tasks available.

    Even my wife volunteers one day a month in the cafe, and she really enjoys the social side of it.

    Like many other railways, the age profile is higher than we would like, but we welcome anyone who would just like to get involved in whatever capacity.

    Regards

    Ian
     
  30. Serathor

    Serathor Member

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    This was so my experience, I suffer with anxiety, and using my love of all things "Railway" thought that this would be a good way to help me and meet new people. I was so shocked at how rude some of the volunteers where, and that fact that new members where more of inconvenience to them, it seemed that we "got in the way".

    I want to make it clear, that I did anything I was told to with a smile. I didn't expect for any "exciting" jobs I expected to be part of something rewarding. Which the WR certainly wasn't.

    After seeing the documentary on the NYMR I would love to volunteer there but it's a bit far away for me at the moment. in the meantime I would love to go back the WR railway but their attitudes towards new volunteers needs to change.
     
  31. Belperpete

    Belperpete Member

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    Some jobs, like driving and guarding do require anyone carrying them out to maintain their competence, which realistically means anyone who can only spare a few days a year will be unlikely to be suitable. Likewise anyone expecting to make a useful contribution in a workshop will probably need to spend several consecutive days, in order to be able to finish any task they are given, or spend one day a week for several consecutive weeks. Someone who can only spend the odd day every now and then is likely to take up more time in being told what needs doing, shown where the tools and materials are, monitored to ensure they are competent in that particular task, and then debriefed at the end of the day so that the task can be handed over to someone else to finish, than the time they will have saved.
     

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