Call for help with miniature steam engine learning centre in Haywards Heath

The Branch Line team: Roy Preston, Ken Hope, Andrew Brock and Andrew Strongitharm
The Branch Line team: Roy Preston, Ken Hope, Andrew Brock and Andrew Strongitharm

A centre where youngsters and old alike can learn the science and engineering behind miniature steam engines could be coming to Haywards Heath.

Newly-formed charity The Branch Line has secured the necessary approvals to build the learning centre at Beech Hurst Gardens but now needs to raise £200,000 to finish the project and recruit volunteers.

Roy Preston driving his South Eastern and Chatham Railway (SECR) C Class 0-6-0 locomotive No. 255

Roy Preston driving his South Eastern and Chatham Railway (SECR) C Class 0-6-0 locomotive No. 255

Dr Roy Preston, chairman of the trustees, said: “The miniature railway in Beech Hurst Gardens has been providing rides for passengers for over 60 years and is now recognised as an enormously valuable attraction and amenity.

“Many people, and especially children, are keen to have a ride behind a steam engine but it is often the case that they don’t understand how the engines work.

“Even adults can be amazed to see small lumps of coal being put into the firebox and sometimes children see water being put into the tender and think it is petrol.

“Nevertheless, it is encouraging that parents will ask if there is any way their children can learn about how steam engines work.

“When most miniature railways were built many years ago, children were taught metalwork and engineering drawing at school.

“These skills often laid the foundation for many of the older generation to build and maintain model steam locomotives.

“Nowadays, school children don’t have these opportunities but some may wish to take up model engineering as they grow up.

“Without this new blood, the heritage of building, maintaining and operating miniature steam locomotives will not be sustainable.

“The model engineering industry has also changed and evolved over the years, so it is now possible to buy a range of products from ready-to-run steam locomotives to detailed component parts.

“Realising these changes, it was apparent to me that there is an obvious shortfall with miniature railway clubs in that very few have the facilities where the engineering and technology associated with steam engines can be taught, understood and passed on to mainly younger generations.”

The charity has been working with Mid Sussex District Council and approval for the centre was given in September last year.

The centre would be attached to the existing SMLS Club House and would be run by volunteers and operated as a Charitable Incorporated Organisation (CIO).

Mr Preston added: “Our next stage in this innovative project is to raise £200,000 to build and equip The Branch Line and then recruit the services of volunteers.”

People who would like to help can email branchline255@gmail.com.

To donate, visit www.branchlinelearningcentre.com.

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