Over 300 homeless people helped by Shelter and Network Rail’s station outreach initiative

Over 300 homeless people helped by Shelter and Network Rail’s station outreach initiative

A pilot scheme spearheaded by housing and homelessness charity Shelter and Network Rail staff at Manchester Piccadilly and Birmingham New Street has so far helped 316 people sleeping rough around the major transport hubs. The partnership has been operating for the past year to help find a route out of homelessness for people who are living on the streets around the stations.

Through the pilot, station staff have been specially trained by Shelter to connect and refer the people they encounter sleeping rough for tailored help and support.

Interventions by the outreach staff in the stations can be a first step in the process to securing settled accommodation and life-changing support for people living on the streets, some of whom have been sleeping rough for a long time.

The help includes support to access essential services, such as registering with a GP, mental health services and setting up a bank account, as well as support to access accommodation.

From the 316 people helped, 15 have secured settled housing, and another 135 have been helped into temporary accommodation. 100 people were registered with a GP and 64 were helped to set up a bank account. Other help included securing identity documents, accessing benefits/ financial support and access to mental health support

One of the people helped was Ryan, 40, who had been sleeping rough around Birmingham New Street station for four months during the pandemic. Through the pilot he was supported by Shelter with a number of issues, including addiction, and is currently living in supported recovery accommodation.

Ryan said: “This time a year ago life was very different, and I remember feeling like there was no way out. But since that first ‘hello’ at the station, things have only got brighter.

“When the engagement workers reached out it felt like someone had thrown me a lifeline. I was given options that I never knew were even available to me, and they supported me every step of the way. Thanks to them I’ve not only got a safe home, but also a chance to see my daughter. For the first time in years I have hope for the future.”

The pilot will also see the opening of a new dedicated welfare room for the outreach project at Birmingham New Street station. The room will give those seeking help a private space to have a hot drink and somewhere comfortable to sit down and speak to engagement workers and station staff, away from the hustle of the station concourse.

It’s thought to be the first dedicated room of its kind at a British railway station. A similar welfare room at Manchester Piccadilly is due to open in the coming weeks.

The initiative is now entering its second year with the aim of finding settled housing for even more people on their journey out of homelessness.

Tim Shoveller, Network Rail’s North West and Central region managing director, said: “It’s fantastic to see the real impact this outreach scheme has made to lives like Ryan’s and dozens of others in both Manchester and Birmingham, and the opening of the new welfare rooms.

“Before this partnership between Network Rail and Shelter, station staff often felt powerless because they didn’t know how best to help those without a safe and secure place to sleep for the night. Ryan’s success shows how equipping railway workers with the knowledge and skills to help people find a route out of homelessness can really turn lives around.”

Vicky Hines, Birmingham Shelter Hub Manager said: “These pilots have shown us all what is possible when we come together to support people who find themselves sleeping rough. Someone knowing they’ve got options and don’t have to face homelessness alone can change their life forever.

“The station team’s commitment has been inspiring, and we’re really proud we’ve been able to empower them to help hundreds of people in and around the stations. In the second year of our partnership with Network Rail, we hope to offer even more people a route out of homelessness.”

The Shelter Outreach project forms part of Network Rail’s five year ‘Routes out of Homelessness’ campaign.

All Change! First recycled plastic railway sleepers laid on Network Rail tracks

All Change! First recycled plastic railway sleepers laid on Network Rail tracks

Trains in Wiltshire are now running on top of composite railway sleepers made from unwanted plastics – the first of their kind on Network Rail’s mainline tracks.

The new sleepers, part of a track which sit on the ballast and hold up the rails and keep them the correct distance apart, are made from recycled plastic and have been installed across the weight-restricted Sherrington Viaduct, between Salisbury and Warminster.

Previously, track across the viaduct would have had to be fitted with wooden sleepers, as concrete would have been too heavy for the structure. From 31 July this year, creosote-treated softwood sleepers will be banned and the alternative is sleepers made with hardwood, which are mainly sourced from Brazil and not sustainable.

Instead, the new sleepers are manufactured by Sicut Ltd in the UK using a blend of locally-sourced plastic waste that may otherwise end up at landfill.

Unlike traditional wooden sleepers, composite sleepers do not split, rot or degrade over time and can resist water, oil, chemicals and fungi. Designed for over 50 years of use, when they are eventually replaced, they can be re-used, re-purposed or recycled to make new sleepers or other composite products.

Rail Minister Chris Heaton-Harris said: “I am proud to see such a positive innovation being used for the first time on the mainline railway.

“Not only are these sleepers made from locally-sourced plastic waste, they need less maintenance and will last longer, underlining our commitment to create a greener, cleaner and more efficient rail network.”

Network Rail’s Wessex route director, Mark Killick, said: “This is an exciting development; use of these recycled sleepers on the Network Rail Wessex route is a first for the overground railway network in Britain.

“Rail is already one of the greenest ways to travel, but we’re committed to even greener and better journeys whether this be changing how we maintain the lineside or finding innovative ways to improve the railway by reusing materials and reducing landfill.

“By using these sleepers, not only are we upgrading the track for customers, they will be travelling on a railway laid using sustainable materials as part of the circular economy.”

Network Rail says the recycled composite sleepers will help them achieve its Zero Carbon 2050 target due to at least a 40 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from sleeper production and embodying recycled plastic within the track infrastructure for at least 50 years.

The environmentally-friendly technology also offers an increase in service life and reduced maintenance compared with timber versions, helping to reduce both whole life costs and the risks to staff when attending site.

Sicut’s CEO, William Mainwaring, added: “Sicut is delighted to have been selected by Network Rail as its sole supplier of composite railways sleepers and it was a great pleasure to work with the Wessex Route on the Sherrington Viaduct project.

“Having proven that our products meet the performance required of modern rail track infrastructure we look forward to working closely with every Network Rail Route and Region to deliver the commercial and environmental savings promised by our technology, while at the same time helping the UK deliver on its commitments on carbon reduction and plastic waste proliferation.”