On Tuesday 11th July, two ex-Class 144 Pacer train carriages converted into a library and STEAM classroom were officially opened at the Dales School in Blythdale.
Donated by the train leasing company Porterbrook and converted by the industrial service provider TEXO, the train now stands on an accessible ‘station’ platform.
The Dales School is a specialist primary school with locations in Blythdale and Ashdale working with pupils who have special educational needs and disabilities.
As more than half of the students at the Dales School have never been on a real train, the carriages will also be used to teach independent train travel as well as railway safety.
Dr Sue Fisher, Dales School Headteacher, said: “Everyone at The Dales School is delighted that our train is finally ready to share with everyone. The train has carriages devoted to reading and the new STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Maths) carriage is now ready for passengers! We want to thank all the businesses, funders, staff and organisations that have helped us get here. We could not have done this without their fantastic generosity, hard work, and support. The children at The Dales School, and beyond, will benefit so much and we hope they will remain Friends of The Dales for many years to come.”
Network Rail have also supported the project through the donation of railway track and a buffer for the train to rest so that it appears to be on tracks, while many other local organisations supported various aspects of the project with materials, funds and labour.
The first carriage to be converted was the library which was featured on George Clarke’s Amazing Spaces TV programme as an example of an innovative use of space and design.
Kevin Eley, Head of Asset Protection and Infrastructure Development at Porterbrook, said: “It’s been a pleasure supporting this project and seeing one of our retired trains get a new lease on life. We hope that this Pacer train has many more years of life as a tool to engage, educate and inspire young people.”
With funding from The Laurel trust, Hargreaves Foundation, The Platten Family trust, The Masons, and Dreager as well as the Harrison Foundation, the second carriage has now been transformed into a dedicated science, technology, engineering and maths hub.
This STEAM carriage will feature VR technology, as well as a new cause and effect section for students to role play as train drivers and operate things like the train’s wipers and lights. This is to help encourage early career aspirations and to help children with sensory needs to experience the sounds and sights of the railway.
Glen Sanderson, Leader of Northumberland County Council, said: “I so enjoyed visiting The Dales School with all the imagination and creativity of having a real train in a playground. I was very pleased to be asked back. Well done to everyone involved – a great example of thinking “outside the box” for the benefit of students.
Harrison Foundation trustee, Daniel Harrison, said: “As soon as we heard about the train in the playground project at the Dales School, I saw the potential for a partnership with our Harrison Centres for Social Mobility initiative. We have six Harrison Centres now and they come in all shapes and sizes. It’s a great idea and one that we’re delighted to support, after all which school children would not be excited to have a real train in their playground, where they can read and learn?
“The Harrison Centres are all about creating new opportunities to learn and therefore helping people to unlock their own potential. I could see straight away that the team at the Dales share that vision.
“I’d like to also thank local MP Ian Levy who played a vital role in connecting us with the Dales school and paving the way for the support we’re able to offer this amazing project.”
Dame Patricia Collarbone from the Laurel Trust said: “The Laurel Trust is delighted to be one of the partners supporting The Dales Train project alongside their local sponsors from business and the railways. The Dales have created an exciting and imaginative project which will bring long-lasting benefits, not only to their children and their families but to the wider community in Blyth.
“We have watched the project grow and develop. We have seen the growing confidence and progress of the children and the joy it has given them. The Laurel Trust is privileged to be part of this wonderful partnership.”
Where possible Porterbrook aims to give second life to its vehicles through charitable donations to heritage railways, charitable organisations, schools and emergency services. Around half of its end-of-first-life vehicles have been re-used over the last five years. Other projects have included a donation to Platform 1, a men’s mental health charity, who turned their carriage into a kitchen and a learning space, and a donation of the HST power car 43102 to the National Railway Museum.