Ticket to ride! A review of Esk Valley Railway’s Forget-me-Not train
Once a month, since October 2019, the Esk Valley Railway Company has been taking over a carriage on the late morning train from Whitby to Middlesbrough, and transforming it into a social hub for those with dementia and their carers.
The journey, which travels through some of the prettiest scenery in the country, follows the route of the River Esk for much of its length, passing through verdant farmland, rolling moors and picturesque villages.
As I get on the train I’m met by a chatty group of ladies from Nunthorpe and Marton Knitters who have been travelling on the dementia train since it began. The group became involved with the Esk Valley Railway after they began yarn bombing Nunthorpe Station and were eventually asked to adopt the station alongside Nunthorpe in Bloom. “They do a grand job too,” said chair of Esk Valley Railway Company, Alan Williams.
I asked the ladies what they like about the train and found myself bombarded with answers. “It’s beautiful scenery for a start off and a safe environment,” said Anne, who was engaged in creating one of the attractive Forget-me-Not brooches given to all who ride the train.
Another of the Nunthorpe group, Carole, said: “It’s all of the things combined together, like music and sing-a-longs and dancing.” Music is provided by the Dave Clegg duo who perform a medley of much loved classics designed to evoke memories.
Anne said: “It gives people an opportunity who might not go on a train much and helps to bring back memories.”
Carole added: “A lot of those who come can remember traveling on a train when they were younger.”
Alan Williams said the dementia train is one way the Esk Valley Railway Company is encouraging more people to use the railway. “Part of the job on lines like this is to use it or lose it. We have more public services and on the strength of that argument got new trains.”
Alan said the dementia train was the brainchild of wife Lisa, who runs Community Rail Partnership: “We started the Forget-me-Not train because we realised that more and more people are stuck in the house all day. So, we encourage them to bring a picnic and provide music. The Dementia Association told us that music helps people and I think you can actually watch it bring people alive.”
February’s train saw passengers joined by a more unusual traveller, a Pets As Therapy (PAT) dog, also thought to be beneficial for people with dementia.
The project has proved so successful that the group has received enquiries from across the country: Alan said: “We’re lucky that the line is self contained, although we do currently have to change trains in Middlesbrough as this one continues to Hexham.”
One of the things which makes the journey so special is that passengers can choose how much time to spend on the train. They may join at any station en-route, so if you feel the full return journey is too long, you can adjust your plans accordingly.
Lisa, who was also offering relaxing hand massages to those on the service, said: “I’m so thrilled, I’ve just had a card to say thank you for what we do, it’s such a positive thing.”
Train guard Jon said: “It’s a fantastic atmosphere, I wish that all my journeys were like this.”
There is a fabulous air of happiness and enthusiasm on the train, but perhaps the best way to explain what the Forget-me-Not train really means is to let those travelling tell you. Graham and Paul travelled from Scarborough to join the train and have been on every service so far. Paul, 51, was diagnosed with dementia at the age of just 47. The former RAF man is beaming as he tells me how he travelled the world. Graham, his support worker (a title he takes reluctantly, prefering to stress that Paul is his friend), said: “It’s a great idea, just so beneficial. It’s great to get out and it helps others. It’s been just like a breath of fresh air.”
The next service runs on Wednesday March 4th, for details visit www.eskvalleyrailway.co.uk