Julia Singleton-Tasker is Lead Community Rail Partnership Officer for Heart of England CRP.

Towards the end of 2022, we had the pleasure of working with Highly Sprung to deliver A Day Like This. With thanks to funding from CrossCountry and Community Rail Network, we worked with newly arrived families and individuals from Syria to develop their rail confidence and familiarise them with the railway network and the opportunities and places they can access through it.

We approached Coventry Refugee and Migrant Centre who were very keen to help us recruit participants for the project. As they work with many newly arrived families, they were able to signpost and support not only the registration process but also the day trip and workshops themselves.

Based in the new Community Hub at Coventry Station, and assisted by Lingo Link, who provided translation as many of the participants spoke little to no English, our project started with games, physical warm-ups and plenty of opportunities to get to know about each other. Highly Sprung explored how the families felt about rail trail here and in Syria and the types of places they may like to discover on the railways and all the sessions were designed to empower participants to use the trains independently after the project and to also bring them together with others in similar situations. The CRP Officer produced a ‘How to buy a train ticket’ guide in Arabic for families to take away and we went through how to book tickets using the Trainline app and website. We also had a session on rail safety and did a tour of the station showing where people could go to continue their journeys by bus, bike or taxi. It was lovely to see the station staff interacting with our group and helping them to feel more at ease in the station.

Sarah Worth, Executive Director of Highly Sprung, explains the next phase of the project,

‘The most exciting point of the project happened once we had learned the basics about train travel when we worked with the families to plan a very special day out. Having got to know more about each other during the sessions we were able to plan a day which really celebrated the interests, hobbies, and passions of the families we were working with. There was plenty of interest in wanting to experience the opportunities that being in nature provides, especially the chance to see different animals that the families perhaps hadn’t ever seen in their home countries. So, after much discussion it was decided that a trip to Mary Arden’s Farm in Stratford-upon-Avon would be the most exciting day out.

On a very sunny day in October, we began our journey at Coventry Railway Station where the families all gathered in excitement, they were almost as excited about the trip as we were. Even more excitingly the families had arranged a picnic full of homemade treats and dishes from their different cultures.

Boarding the train at the train station was easily done thanks to the support from platform staff who demonstrated just how accessible train travel from Coventry can be. Only two out of the 25 family members on the trip had ever travelled by train before, so we enjoyed the opportunity to talk about what that first experience felt like as we hurtled through the Warwickshire countryside. My favourite comment was from one participant who couldn’t believe how smooth the train felt on the tracks and explained that at home the trains were so bumpy that you almost fell off your seat. Another highlight was seeing our youngest participant, only three years old, seeing sheep and cows for the first time and learning how to make the animals’ different sounds, the train carriage was soon full of moo-ing and baa-ing.’

Mary Arden’s Farm was a perfect location for our trip. With animals, space to run around, activities including pot painting and lots of games, we spent several hours exploring the farm and all it had to offer. One of the participants commented, ‘This trip came at a time when we really needed it. There are so many pressures building on our own country. The trip allowed us to relax and just enjoy ourselves.’ and all the families have expressed an interest in doing more group trips on the railways. Seeing the families experience, what was for quite a few of them their first ever train trip, was a real privilege and the photos and videos capture the joy they felt on the day.

Two weeks later, we held a mini exhibition at Coventry Station, showcasing their photos, talking about the project and showing the video of the day. We were delighted to be joined by representatives from CrossCountry, Community Rail Network, the National Railway Museum and Coventry Refugee and Migrant Centre, who were instrumental in making this project happen.

A Day Like This has created many opportunities for legacy work. From finding places to display the photos taken by the participants, to using the video to inspire future performance pieces by professionals, communities and schools, the experience and the resources created by the project can be used in numerous ways. Coventry Refugee and Migrant Centre are very keen to repeat the project or to work with us in another way, so we can continue to make an impact on the families and individuals who are newly arrived in the city.

Project participants reflected on their involvement:

“The group was very joyful, and I really thank them for the efforts they made to make this joyful and comforting.”

“It was amazing.”

“We feel like a family.”

“We feel like we used to in our country when we can go out together. This trip made us feel like that again.”

“The children were all so excited. They dream of going on another trip like this again.”

You can read the full blogpost here.