New uses for station buildings

With creativity and by working in partnership, there are many ways to bring disused station rooms or entire buildings back to life. In doing so, you’ll make a big difference to the station by:

  • creating a welcoming atmosphere
  • minimising anti-social behaviour
  • improving the passenger experience
  • making the station about more than just transport

While it’s important to be mindful of relevant regulations and constraints, the key to reviving station buildings is to use your imagination.

Inspiration


Crediton station tearoom
Devon (UK)

The owner of Crediton station’s tea room has created a sustainable local business that is appreciated and used by many local groups, including the Friends of the Station volunteer group. The tea room has led to reduced vandalism and a safer station environment. Read more.

Rural stations re-imagined
Pays de la Loire (France)

Région Pays de la Loire has helped local organisations to come together to brainstorm new uses for seven disused rural station buildings. Ideas include cycle hire facilities, exhibition space, sales points for local businesses, a library book exchange, and a medical centre. Read more.

Creche at Le Pallet station
Pays de la Loire (France)

The old goods shed at Le Pallet station has been transformed into a creche that caters for more than 20 children. The facility is of course particularly useful for working parents who commute by train – especially since the creche’s opening hours have been tailored to fit with arrival and departure times from the station. Read more.

Rediscover the Region project
Tokyo (Japan)

The East Japan Railway Company has opened stores at urban stations such as Ueno in Tokyo selling local produce and delicacies from rural areas. The stores add interest to the urban stations, as well as raising the profile of outlying areas and promoting travel to these regions.

Following the success of the Ueno store, a second shop was opened in 2014 at Akihabara station, also in Tokyo. Read more.


Work Zone
Northwich (UK)

Stations can play a role in helping people to find employment and develop new skills.

The station building in Northwich, Cheshire, is host to ‘Work Zone’, an award winning café and Community Learning Centre that helps to develop participants’ job hunting and employability skills. The facility combines computers and internet access with a coffee shop. Read more.


Restaurant and information centre
Utrecht (Netherlands)

A vacant space at Driebergen-Zeist station has now been transformed into an information centre and tourism office for the Utrechtse Heuvelrug national park, combined with a modern restaurant.

The new facility uses solar and wind energy, and has a revolving door which generates electricity as customers enter and exit. Read more.

Top 10 tips from community rail specialist Paul Salveson

Most railways across Europe are dotted with old station buildings that have long since outlived their original purpose. Some have been sold off, often to be used for residential purposes. In other cases, perhaps more imaginatively, they have been converted into shops, community facilities or workspace. The process has – perhaps – gone furthest in the UK, despite many fine buildings having been demolished in the 1970s.
There is no shortage of good practice on developing new uses for station buildings in the UK, although we would be the first to admit we don’t have a monopoly of knowledge and there are good things to learn from across Europe, Asia and North America. These tips are intended as a brief introduction to developing new uses for station buildings. It isn’t a technical guide, but more about looking at some creative ideas that would then need to be informed by technical expertise in terms of building construction and maintenance.  Paul Salveson
1. Find your building

Most local railways will have several stations along the route. Not all will have buildings, but those that have may have potential for re-development. Let’s say you find a railway station in your community with a building which may be either completely unused or only partly used. Ask yourselves these questions which are really about social benefit:

  • Is it in a good location where people pass by?
  • How well used is the station?
  • Is there an active community organisation/s?
  • Are there any local ‘unmet needs’ that the building could provide space for?


2. Investigate further

If the answers to the above questions are mostly positive, that is – the station has a reasonable number of people using it, it is part of a community where ‘things go on’ and people pass by the station, and there are active community groups or local businesses which might make use of a station – then you can go a bit further. So:

  • Find out who owns the building. It may the railway company, the railway infrastructure body if that is separate, the local council, or a private owner. In general, if it is in railway or local council ownership the job is easier.
  • Go and see the relevant owner (Landlord) and get their support. Much depends on the positive response of the individual manager concerned so great tact and diplomacy is required. This needs to be seen as a good idea for them, as well as yourselves!
  • If the landlord says the building is falling down or needs a fortune spending on it, maybe you need to look elsewhere. But if it is in decent condition, don’t be deterred by the prospect of some money having to be spent to improve its condition.


3. Widen your enquiries

If you get a positive response, widen your enquiries to potential users. Take advice from the local council about ‘what is out there’ – could be community groups, small businesses, cultural organisations – potentially a thousand different kinds of ‘stakeholder’.

Go and talk to people – at this stage, face to face contact is really important. Build trust and interest. It may be that the building is too big for one single group or business to use, so depending on size consider the scope for shared use. Be careful about the sort of group you want to be involved with. If it’s a community group, are they well-established and respected? Have they the resources to be a tenant? If a business, is the use appropriate? (that is, not noisy, dirty, dangerous…). Again, the financial viability of the business is relevant. At this stage, don’t make any commitments!


4. Develop your vision

If your initial enquiries are positive, you will need to put some ‘meat on the bone’ and develop a vision for the station, based on your impressions so far. This must involve the landlord, whoever that might be. If they are not on your side, the job will be impossible. If it is the railway company or local council, your chances should be high (but it is important that the ‘culture’ within the organisation, especially if it is a national railway, needs to support this sort of activity).

So, if everything is OK so far, develop a plan for how the building could be used and developed, based on your discussions so far. You need to ask yourselves “what is this building going to be?” – is it a business centre, community facility, arts centre – or maybe a mix of all of these and more?


5. How will it be managed?

Who would be the main tenant? Is it realistic to buy the building from its current owner? Or will it be better to form a trust that could manage it, on behalf of the landlord? In some cases, it may simply be a case of you acting as an intermediary and the potential user becoming a tenant of the landlord, usually the railway company. That can work fine as long as everyone is aware of their responsibilities. However, a bigger project may need that ‘intermediary’ body, which could be a community rail partnership, a purpose-made ‘community development trust’, charity or other body.


6. Money is an issue, but not always the main problem

It may be that the landlord doesn’t want to sell the building but is willing to make the place available to a not for profit organisation/s on a low rent (especially if they c an’t get a commercial tenant!). That can be a good thing for you, so you avoid too big a liability. However, the building may need a lot of money spending on it to make it fully useable. It may need some structural work, from improving access for people with reduced mobility to altering in some way.

The cost can run into hundreds of thousands of Euros. We have just seen the completion of a remarkable project in Wakefield (Yorkshire) led by environmental NGO Groundwork which has cost about 7 million euros to make the building ready for use! But that’s unusual. Very often you can get funding for ‘capital’ projects from various sources and help is available to direct you to these sources and assist with grant applications. The bigger issue is making sure you get uses for the building which are financially sustainable and secure for the medium-term at least.


7. Market the asset

Once you are clear on all of the above, you should be able to go all out to market the building to potential users. Don’t think that putting an advert in the local newspaper is enough. You will need to go out and talk to people, get them to look at the building – and inspire them with your vision! If possible, have ‘open days’ at the station where people can come along and have a look at the building and its potential. Use the local media – stress it is something really special and of benefit to the community.


8. Build allies

For a project which is of community benefit, there are many people you need to get on your side. These include local politicians (councillors and MPs/senators), local journalists and other people who have ‘influence’ in the community. They can be a big help if they are on your side, and usually they like to be involved!


9. Suppose the building is a wreck?

If the building you are interested in meets every criteria regarding potential use – but is basically a ruin that would be beyond restoration – maybe the best outcome is to discuss with the landlord and local council whether it makes sense to demolish the building and put a facility in that is fit for purpose? That can be painful – often local people have an affection for old buildings! But sometimes it can be the right option, if the community gets a better facility. This is exactly what happened with Burnley (Manchester Road) station in Lancashire.


10. Be patient, but persistent

Dealing with the railway industry can take a long time. There are processes that seem (and often are) bureaucratic. Sometimes people can be unhelpful (usually because they are being expected to do too many other things!). So – be patient but be prepared to challenge as well. If you come up against a major obstacle, find ways round it by going to somebody more senior if you really have to. Assume that the project will have its disappointments, will take longer than you thought, cost more money – and maybe turn your hair grey. Usually, the result is well worth it. If you don’t believe me, visit the new Wakefield Kirkgate station!

Resources

Links to useful materials around the web:

  • New thinking on community-based station development (web article)
    A great article, packed with examples of how stations can be transformed by involving communities and businesses, written by UK community rail expert Paul Salveson.
  • Station facilities on regional lines (workshop presentations)
    A series of three workshops was hosted by Cerema (France’s centre for the study of risks, environment, mobility and planning) about services at regional stations. Some of the great examples discussed included fresh vegetable schemes and even employability projects that offer laundry services to passengers. Get links to presentations and summaries from the first, second and third workshops.

Contribute


If you have your own case studies, resources or ideas to contribute to this (or any other) section of the toolkit, please add a comment to the foot of this article.

Alternatively email info@citizensrail.org or call +44 1752 584777 to speak to our lead partner, the Devon & Cornwall Rail Partnership.

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