Volunteers needed to save vegetable nursery Fight to preserve railway heritage

Paul Jeeves

A CAMPAIGN has been launched to save Britain's last surviving railway nursery, which was established more than 60 years ago to provide quality food for meals across the rail network.

Poppleton nursery is under threat after Northern Rail handed its maintenance contract for hundreds of railway stations across the North of England to another company which says the Yorkshire site is surplus to requirements.

A campaign has now been mounted to save the nursery, which was set up during the Second World War to provide good quality vegetables for railway canteens.

An open evening is being held tomorrow to recruit volunteers for a community-based company which is hoped will save the nursery.

Graham Warner, who has worked there since 1978, said: “It would be wonderful to see the nursery restored to its former glory. It is overgrown at the moment, but it would only take a little bit of effort to tidy it up.

“I really hope that volunteers can be found to give it a new lease of life and to preserve it for future generations.”

After the end of the war, the nursery served railway hotels and the hundreds of station gardens across Yorkshire and the North-East.

It had a railway with a narrow gauge of two feet which brought the plants from the greenhouses to the distribution point, and in later years a petrol-engine locomotive would shunt wagons along a short stretch of track.

The track survives, but the locomotive has been sold. While the nursery side of the business has diminished, the site has been used as a base for railway engineering company Jarvis’s maintenance operations.

However, the contract has been handed to another company, ISS, which is not planning to continue to operate from the Poppleton nursery.

Paul Bisson, one of the campaigners who have been in talks to try and save the nursery and who is also the programmes manager with the National Railway Museum in York, said: “We want to test the waters at the open evening to see if there is support out there in the community for what we are planning to do.

“I am fascinated by our railway heritage and when you have the last example of a piece of heritage disappearing before your very eyes, you want to do all you can to save it.

“We have a living piece of history here, and it would be such a shame to see it die.”

Network Rail, which owns the site, has been working with the National Railway Museum, the Association of Community Rail Partnerships, Northern Rail and Jarvis to relaunch the nursery as a community project.

A number of ideas has been suggested, but each requires support from volunteers in order to be viable.

Jerry Swift, the account director for community rail at Network Rail, said: “Everyone is welcome to come along to the open evening. We don’t just want gardeners, we need people with skills of all sorts – and, of course, a passion for the railways.

“There is no obligation to get involved but we are hoping that a small team of interested individuals will emerge from the event. Without support the future of this historic site looks bleak.”

Northern Rail spokeswoman Clare Conlin added: “We hope the open evening will have a positive outcome.”

The nursery is next to Poppleton station, with a train service from York. There is car parking available. The site will be open from 5.30pm to 8pm tomorrow.