With events cancelled and facilities closed due to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, the Severn Valley Railway (SVR) was, like a lot of other heritage railways, in trouble.
The SVR ran its last passenger service on 15 March and closed its associated pubs, cafes and shops. It’s also had to cancel a number of major revenue-generating events, such as the Spring Steam and Diesel Galas, its popular 1940s weekends, and the celebrations that would have been taking place in May to mark the 50th anniversary of its public train services.
An emergency appeal was launched in March to keep the SVR ticking over on a ‘care and maintenance’ basis during its enforced closure. A rush of donations and share purchases meant that the railway quickly passed its original target of £250,000. By early May, a further £400,000 to help mitigate the significant loss in income it is experiencing.
General manager Helen Smith said the level of support received has been remarkable: “We have been truly humbled to see how much people care about the railway, and how determined they are to make sure we survive. Some of the messages that people have sent with their donations talk about their hopes for the future and how they’re looking forward to travelling with us again as soon as possible. We are immensely grateful to everyone who has got behind us to help.
“However, there’s no escaping the fact that we face a huge challenge to get the railway through this crisis. It’s not clear when we’ll be able to reopen, or the nature of social distancing restrictions that will be needed to operate safely. We’ve already suffered a huge loss in income from tickets and secondary spend, and don’t know how long this will continue.
“In the course of a normal year, we make around £4.5 million of essential investments back into the Railway, paid for out of visitor revenue. Clearly, during the current year, we will not be able to fund all the work that’s needed, although we still want to do as much as possible. That’s why we’re continuing to fundraise, to secure a viable future for the SVR.”
That’s why the SVR is continuing to seek donations to its Fight Back Fund – and has recently opened an online shop, where enthusiasts can purchase a hand-picked selection of clothing, homeware and toys, with all funds currently supporting the SVR Fight Back Fund. From caps and t-shirts featuring the SVR logo to battery operated toys and cuddly bears, the website features something for every age of train enthusiast.