After two formal appeals were turned down after the rejection of its second-round bid as part of the Culture Recovery Fund, the West Somerset Railway has launched an Emergency SOS Funding Appeal for £1 million to see it through till May 2022.
The railway was hoping to receive a Culture Recovery Fund grant of up to £432,000 from the scheme, which was the maximum permitted under the guidelines of round 2 bidding.
This would have helped provide further funds for the 22-mile line, which opened on 22nd May following ongoing closure due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The first grant bid was accepted, and £864,900 was granted last October, and the final instalment of the grant, worth £86,490 was paid just before Easter 2021.
This money is needed now as the projected income for the West Somerset Railway this year is insufficient to meet the needs in the budget for the railway.
A WSR spokesman said: “The rejection of the WSR’s second application bid to the CRFH was very significant for the railway as the money would have enabled the WSR Plc, along with the support of WSR ‘family’ support organisations, to prepare for and fund the reopening of the railway and the operations for 2022 and beyond.”
The WSR PLC has now contacted all external stakeholders who supported the CRFH bid, including local MPs Iain Liddell-Grainger and Rebecca Pow and local partners in the tourism sector to inform them of the rejection and two failed appeals.
Following this setback, plus shortfalls in income due to a reduced amount of trains and capacity due to social distancing, the WSR PLC Board has made three urgent decisions:
- Launch another emergency appeal to supporters for up to £1 million to see them through to next year and a hoped COVID free future.
- The WSR PLC Board is researching into the feasibility of issuing another Share Issue Appeal to raise funds from the 8,000 plus shareholders or new subscribers.
- The PLC will seek support from the West Somerset Railway Association (WSRA) and the West Somerset Railway Heritage Trust (WSRHT) towards this appeal
The PLC has also decided that it has no choice but to defer and pause any development work or incurring any costs on changing its structure.
Commenting on the DCMS announcement and the two appeal rejections, WSR Plc Chairman Jonathan Jones-Pratt said: “Naturally, we are bitterly disappointed not to have gained this valuable and much needed second round grant support from the Department of Culture Media and Sport, despite lodging two very strong appeals against their earlier rejection decision.
“This additional CRFH money would have provided a vital, further financial lifeline needed for the railway’s survival, and we are confident that all of the projects we put forward for support were needed to help get the much-loved West Somerset Railway back up and running normally again.
“So, given this bad news, we simply had to launch another ‘SOS’ emergency survival fund appeal for up to £1 million.
“We are still receiving donations money every week because people believe so strongly in our railway. Long may that continue to be the case, and let’s try to raise the £1 million as soon as possible, maybe more! “It’s worth noting that we have now raised or received a total in financial help of an amazing £1.4 million from all sources to date since last March, so this appeal target is achievable!
“This total so far has been achieved via our own WSR ‘family’ emergency appeals which comes to a combined total of @ £559,000; plus the earlier DCMS CHRF grant of £864,900, and also includes the latest DCMS CRFH grant of £13,100 to the WSRHT.
“All of this money is going to be needed for our very survival now, but the appeal is still bringing in more cash every single week after running for a year! That’s a great achievement for our supporters, so we are going to continue with it, and the appeals for future funds will just have to carry on.
“Despite this set-back, the WSR’s next longer-term and ambitious fund-raising target is to try and generate another £1 million each year thereafter in donations and grants for ongoing infrastructure investment.
“We now know that we are going to face a trading revenue shortfall this year anyway due to it being an enforced shorter operating season for us with severe restrictions on the number of trains, plus Covid 19 capacity issues and delays on the new Seaward Way level crossing, so we expect that the trading loss could be as high too, maybe £1 million.
“So, we are appealing to our loyal supporters and shareholders to help us go the extra mile in ensuring our future survival, and from our supporter organisations too.
“We had no choice sadly but to defer and pause the proposed new structure for the WSR and proposed creation of an over-arching charity, because of so many doubts about it, plus doing so would have cost us such a lot of money to implement, and that’s cash we simply don’t have available right now in the business.
“We have to pay the bills from our suppliers, pay the wage bills for our dedicated staff, and try to generate as much revenue as we can in an impossibly short season with fewer trains and restricted passenger carrying capacity due to Covid restrictions. But we will get there in the end!
“The WSR family is so very, very grateful to everyone who has helped us raise money in whatever way they could in the last year, and hopefully they will help us again now.
”Some good news is that we have had a good start since the 22 May limited re-opening, so I’m optimistic we can achieve all of this by pulling together hard, and going the final mile towards our recovery, and running over the full length of the railway again soon.”
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