Elated Swanage Railway volunteers are celebrating after receiving the ultimate official accolade – the coveted and prestigious Queen's Award for Voluntary Service which is regarded as the MBE for voluntary groups.
Recognising excellence in voluntary activities by community groups, the announcement about the recognition to the Swanage Railway Trust was made today, Friday, by Buckingham Palace in the London Gazette – the UK's official public record since 1665.
Two generations of Swanage Railway volunteers have worked tirelessly to rebuild the branch line from Swanage to Corfe Castle and onwards to near Furzebrook after it was controversially closed by British Rail in January, 1972.
That summer, some seven miles of track was torn up in just seven short weeks with two generations of determined Swanage Railway volunteers taking 25 long years to relay it.
The citation for the Queen’s Award praises the Swanage Railway Trust for "developing the Heritage Railway to reinstate services between Swanage and Wareham for the benefit of the community."
The highest award given to a voluntary group comes just under two weeks before the Swanage Railway starts operating a 60-day diesel train service from Swanage and Corfe Castle to the main line at Wareham on Tuesday, 13 June, 2017.
It will be the first time in 45 years that a regular train service has run from Swanage and Corfe Castle to the main line at Wareham.
A delighted Swanage Railway Trust chairman Gavin Johns said: "This is a tremendous public recognition for the huge amount of work put in by so many volunteers over the last 45 years to bring about this milestone in community rail services.
"To have all the hard work that has been required over the past 45 years to create the Swanage Railway marked in this way by Her Majesty the Queen is very special indeed and something that we will treasure.
"Our founding members had a dream of restoring the railway and returning Swanage and Corfe Castle train services to Wareham. We have fulfilled that dream and have become a valued part of the Purbeck community,” he added.
The award announcement from Buckingham Palace praised the Swanage Railway Trust, saying: "The work your group does for the community was very much admired by the independent Assessment Committee chaired by Sir Martyn Lewis CBE.
"The award of the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service 2017 represents a tremendous achievement for your organisation. We hope that everyone involved, and particularly your volunteers, feel immensely proud of the recognition that this Award represents,” the award announcement added.
Yesterday, Thursday, Swanage Railway Trust trustee and secretary Mark Woolley – a dedicated volunteer on the heritage railway since a teenager in the mid-1980s – attended a garden party given by Her Majesty the Queen at Buckingham Palace.
Mark has been the voluntary secretary of the Swanage Railway Trust for more than 25 years and had also been a long-time director of the Swanage Railway Company which is the Trust's trading arm that runs the train services and other commercial activities.
The Swanage Railway is managed by the Swanage Railway Trust – a registered charity – which dates back, in several forms, to 1974 and has a membership of 4,000 people.
Around 450 of those members are regular volunteers on the Swanage Railway – helping to run, develop and extend the popular heritage line which last year carried some 211,000 passengers on its steam and diesel trains.
The Swanage Railway Trust will receive a certificate signed by Her Majesty the Queen and a domed glass crystal due to be presented to representatives of the registered charity by the Lord Lieutenant of Dorset at a later date.
And some 500 official Queen's Award for Voluntary Service lapel badges will be presented to Swanage Railway volunteers over the coming days and weeks.
The prestigious Award was created by Her Majesty the Queen in 2002 to mark the occasion of her Golden Jubilee and is regarded as the MBE for volunteer groups.
The Swanage Railway always welcomes new volunteers so for an informal chat, contact Swanage Railway volunteer co-ordinator Mike Whitwam on 01929 475212 or email email@example.com