A huge cash injection for England’s longest heritage railway could prove to be the life-saver it desperately needs, says Conservative MP Ian Liddell-Grainger.
And, he said, thousands of tourists as well as local families would be thrilled to learn of the Government’s £865,000 grant to the West Somerset Railway.
The money is one of a raft of allocations from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport aimed at helping heritage attractions recover from the effects of lockdown and reduced attendances during the pandemic.
Mr Liddell-Grainger, MP for Bridgwater and West Somerset, said the grant should help the railway company make an early return to normal services on the 22-mile line between Minehead and Bishop’s Lydeard.
“Having been involved fairly closely in discussions with the company and its supporters over the last few months I had become only too aware of how perilous its financial position was,” he said.
“Things weren’t looking good before lockdown, what with passenger numbers declining, costs for repairs and renewals rising and cash reserves exhausted.
“But this grant recognises the importance of the railway not merely as a West Somerset tourist attraction but as one of the premier attractions in the southwest – and a magnet for tourists from all over the UK.
“There are still going to be challenges ahead but the grant reflects the fact that the Government has every confidence that they will be surmounted and that the railway has a long-term future.”
A grant of £26,100 has also been announced for the Minehead-based enthusiast-run company which owns Dinmore Manor, a 1950 steam locomotive currently based on the Gloucestershire and Warwickshire Railway.
There’s £24,800 for Exmoor’s Riverside Project and £20,900 for the parochial church council of St Mary’s, Bridgwater.
And a major, £154,000 grant is also on its way to the Halsway Manor Society which runs the eponymous country house in the Quantock Hills as a national centre for the folk arts.
Mr Liddell-Grainger said that award, too, had significance outside the immediate area.
“Halsway Manor is recognised as an outstanding national centre of excellence. As such it attracts hundreds of folk song and dance enthusiasts to this part of the world, many of them discovering its attractions for the first time and going on to become regular visitors, to the benefit of the wider local economy,” he said.
“I am delighted that its importance has also been recognised by the department.”