Smethwick Rolfe Street station: Regeneration by the community
Company - London Midland
What is the issue being addressed
Smethwick Rolfe Street station has a long history (opened 1852) and is situated in inner-city Birmingham, in an area of high cultural diversity. In September 2016, the station had a number of areas that would benefit from regeneration to make it more welcoming for passengers. These included an old and faded station mural, the old Station Master’s office (riddled with damp and which had become a mere storage room), and the former platform 1 garden (overgrown and unwelcoming).
How was this solved?
Fulfilling our key London Midland community rail and Adopt a Station objectives of Engagement, Learning, Local Pride and Teamwork, we linked with the Smethwick Abrahamic Foundation, which brings Muslims together with all faiths to improve their community through family events, litter picks and charity fund raising. Through their help, local residents came forward to form the station’s first adoption group to re-establish and maintain the Platform 1 station garden.
Working with the London Midland safety and environment teams, Network Rail and Transport for West Midlands, the adopters chose low maintenance plants such as fragrant herbs and perennial flowering shrubs. The garden area was cleared, planted and completed in May 2017. Since that time the group has been tending the garden.
At the same time, we worked with Sandwell College, engaging their support to bring new life to the old station mural area. Their construction students also took part in a programme of work experience, turning the unused room at the station into a meeting and exhibition space that could be used by the community. The group of young students, all aged 16-18 years, worked up the plan with their tutors and completely re-plastered and painted the room and installed an exhibition shelf. The work was completed in just two weeks.
The mural project was developed over several meetings with BTEC Art students and their tutors, who researched, designed and painted the mural as the community artwork module of their course; it helped them to achieve this qualification, as well as providing a lasting work of art to improve the station.
Their brief was to create something to celebrate the many cultures of Smethwick; a design with a message to make people look and think. The students themselves also hailed from many different backgrounds. ‘Smethwick Going Forward’ was born as the name of the mural project.
The students researched the area of the station first hand, talking to passengers, traders, resident and local schools about their ideas for the mural, and then started on their designs.
Three designs were chosen as best meeting the project brief and the final design was a combination of all, with hands together planting the seeds of friendship, surrounded by fabric patterns to represent different communities; Islamic, African, Jamaican, Christian, Hindu, Japanese, Chinese and Judaism. Entwined in the design the words “Love Thy Neighbour” in these and other languages; a fitting design to engender strong community partnerships and pride.
What were the outcomes: social impact
- Many diverse groups engaged across cultures, ages and abilities, all working together and a lasting relationship formed with the local community to sustain the station garden and to develop new projects at the station to embrace learning
- A much more welcoming station for passengers: excellent feedback
- A standout station mural, a permanent feature, that through its design and Love Thy Neighbour message in many different languages celebrates diversity and reflects the whole community within the station setting
- A fully refurbished room at the station, providing a ready-made community meeting and exhibition space – this has already enabled the station to be part of 2017 Heritage Open Days
- The students have learned more through being involved in real-life projects; they have had to think on their feet, solve problems, meet a brief and learn about their local area; working for a ‘client’ has prepared them for work
- Sandwell College videoed the project to help them encourage other local businesses to take part in their Construction work experience programme
- The adopters also made a video of the garden project to help engage the community in more local regeneration projects
- The project won the national Community Rail award 2017 for Involving Diverse Groups and is used as an example of good practice by Department for Transport.
- Having a positive social impact
- Customer driven
- Putting rail in reach of people.
- Train Operator