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"Adopt A Station" by John Yellowlees - Scottish Region meeting of 13 October 2009 in Glasgow

The October meeting in Glasgow was addressed by John Yellowlees, the External Relations Manager for First ScotRail. The "Adopt A Station" scheme is aimed at finding community or start-up uses for vacant accommodation at stations across Scotland. Mr. Yellowlees began his presentation by illustrating a number of stations that have been improved as part of the scheme. He pointed out that in an ideal world stations at the heart of their communities and station buildings would be occupied by activities that enhance rail journeys. Stations would also be bright and have tidy gardens and plants.

However, in the real world stations whilst clean and functional may not be inspiring and in many cases station buildings are listed but have no practical really use and it may not be possible for these buildings to be sold off for non really use. Additionally railway staff may not have " green fingers" or have no time for gardening activities.

Predating the scheme's inception there were some notable successes including the West Highland bunkhouses and restaurants, Glenfinnan diner and museum, Morar community newspaper, the Friends at Kyle, the florist at Nairn, the Dingwall café and bar and the Hitrans office at Lairg. At Aviemore the Strathspey Railway shares the main station. Aberdour has for many years been synonymous with its gardens maintained by station staff.

First ScotRail took over the ScotRail franchise in October 2004 with a commitment to station adoption inspired by experience south of the border, and a proforma on surplus accommodation was launched at Rannoch where a heritage centre was opened in September 2005.

First ScotRail provides detailed station gardening advice and has to take account of the Service Quality Incentive Regime (SQUIRE) which has 39 criteria that stations must meet - but station adoption helps by tidying up stations. The Railway Heritage Trust also plays an important part in funding and advising on bringing disused buildings back into use. A human presence at the station can enhance security.

Accommodation can be used for a variety of purposes including community uses and business start-ups, with a nominal rent at least until an enterprise has gone into profit. The Pitlochry Station Bookshop has been selling second-hand books for four years and has raised approximately £27,000 for charity. The Coffee Stop at Uddingston Station that was established by a local councillor Maureen Devlin who found that she could not get any coffee whilst waiting for trains so converted the former parcels office.

Other examples of new uses for surplus accommodation include The Ironing Station at Dunblane, Strathleven Artizans at Renton, the Clyde Model Railway Club at Lanark, the East Ayrshire Toy Library at Kilmarnock, the SAYLSA's shop at Girvan, artist Kirsty Lorenz's studio at Ladybank station in Fife.

There are now 81 stations with volunteer gardeners, for many groups and individuals want to make their local station a showcase for their town. First ScotRail provides funding with the exception of Stonehaven Station where Deeside Timber Frames offered to sponsor the Stonehaven New Horizons Group.

Pitlochry, Uddingston, North Berwick and Forres have been winners at Beautiful Scotland or Britain in Bloom with the help of their stations. The Helensburgh and Gareloch Horticultural Society undertakes gardening at Helensburgh Central, advising the Friends of the West Highland Lines at Helensburgh Upper, and the East Ayrshire Gardening Club looks after Kilmarnock Station. In Glasgow, Langside College horticultural students have planted Rutherglen Station, The Hidden Garden supplied and maintain planters at Pollokshields East and the Community Champion Award went to Hollybrook Secondary School for their work at Queens Park Station.

In addition to clubs, societies and schools, individuals have undertaken the gardening at Whitecraigs, Johnstone, Ardrossan South Beach and Crianlarich. Geoffrey Evison has personally initiated gardening at a dozen stations which must be a record. Mr. Peter McKinley, who had been invited to the meeting spoke briefly on his efforts at for which he has received the Best New Individual Adopter certificate awarded by ScotRail earlier this yearafter he vowed to treat the station as effectively an extension of his own garden. He planted flowers in a number of tubs - two he provided himself - and several others given by ScotRail and also replanted the station's existing garden and extended floral tubs to both platforms.

In addition to bringing unused station buildings back into use and brightening stations up with plants, stations make ideal locations for works of art, for example at Pitlochry there is the wrought-iron porter, Linlithgow has banners and mosaics, whilst at Edinburgh Park there is a Japanese stained-glass window. Award-winning murals can be found that at Invergordon and Prestonpans Stations and at Barrhead the local High School provided posters in the underpass.

There are a number of new projects still to come including a citizen's advice bureau, a cycle resource centre, a radio studio, another heritage centre, more model railway clubs and more gardening, and on 26 May the transport minister launched the new £1M Stations Community Regeneration Fund, while on gardening there are only 262 stations to go (and indeed Stewart Dick reported that work had started that day on site-preparation at Bridge of Allan)!

Mr. Yellowlees summed up the initiative by pointing out that the "Adopt A Station" scheme appeals to a wide range of communities, helping to showcase them to the passing traveller. Provided the safety requirements are sensibly interpreted, they need not be unduly onerous and the benefits far outweigh the modest costs of start-up and even smaller ongoing maintenance. Gardening need only be low-maintenance in order to achieve a worthwhile impact. With regard to security, CCTV protects against vandalism but a greater threat is said to be plant thieves!

Both John Yellowlees and Peter McKinley answered a number of question on the "Adopt a Station" scheme and Mr. McKinley outlined some of the challenges that he had met when starting work. However, the results have been worthwhile and beneficial to the local community. The Scottish Regional Chairman, Dougie Adamson then presented both speakers with one of the Scottish Region's engraved quaichs as a memento of the evening.

Further information on the Adopt a Station scheme and an application form can be found on the Adopt a Station page on the First ScotRail website at


Click here to download a copy of the presentation (PDF format, 6.5Mb)

The Scottish Region would like to thank First ScotRail for hosting the meeting.

Report by John Fender.


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