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Bid for lottery funding for rail centre gets up a head of steam
STEAM rail enthusiasts in Didcot are preparing a bid for £4m of heritage lottery funding to build a new visitor centre.
In 2009 Network Rail agreed to give the Great Western Society a 35-year-lease for its home next to Didcot Parkway rail station, where the steam train collection has been housed since 1967.
Until 2009 the centre, which attracts 50,000 visitors a year, had only a rolling six-month lease, making it difficult to attract funding for expansion.
Now managers at the centre run by the society are preparing a bid for about £4m to the Heritage Lottery Fund.
Centre manager Roger Orchard said: “The 1930s coal stage and water tower needs about £1.5m of restoration work.
“We also want to create a new ramp and visitor centre at the entrance to the site, including a shop and café. Once the visitor centre is built, the shop in the central part of the site will move to the new visitor centre.
“We will have two cafés, with the exising café remaining near the engine sheds, and a new café at the entrance.”
“I hope we have a good chance of getting the funding – I think we are ticking a lot of the right boxes.
“At the moment we get 50,000 visitors every year but we hope the new visitor centre would bring in an extra 10,000 visitors.”
Didcot Town Council leader Margaret Davies said: “I hope they get the money – the railway centre is a real asset to Didcot and is part of the town’s history.”
News of the bid came shortly after another important development at the centre.
On August 24 ownership of the replica broad gauge locomotive Fire Fly was transferred from the Firefly Trust Ltd to Great Western Preservations Ltd at the centre.
The Fire Fly class were the first locomotives designed for the Great Western Railway by Daniel Gooch in 1840.
Construction of the replica started in Bristol in 1985 and transferred to Didcot in 1989. The Fire Fly Trust Ltd has decided that replica should stay at Didcot and has transferred ownership to Great Western Preservations, the holding company for most Great Western Railway locomotives.
Bill Smith, Chairman of Great Western Preservations, said: “We are delighted to welcome Fire Fly into our collection, which will ensure that we can demonstrate Brunel’s broad gauge in action.”
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