Young and old pulling together at Middleton Railway

Local volunteers, young and old, are pulling together at Middleton Railway – to restore historic rail wagons damaged by last month’s fire at the neighbouring Jewson builders yard, and also to run this iconic local organisation year-round. South Leeds Life caught up with some of their younger volunteers this week, to find out what’s going on.

Young people leading the way at Middleton Rail

Middleton Railway is the oldest working railway in the world, having opened in 1758 to bring coal from Middleton Colliery into Leeds. In 1812, it became the first commercially successful railway to use steam locomotives. Since 1960, it’s been run by the volunteer-led Middleton Railway Trust. There are over 60 regular volunteers at the moment – and two of the youngest are Ellen Sayles (16) and Kenny Burgess-Hall (15), pictured.

When we met them this week, they were both covered in grime from head to toe: they had been grafting away all day sanding down and repairing a vintage ‘Dogfish’ rail wagon, one of those damaged in last month’s fire at Jewson (reported here). Kenny is down at the yard most weeks throughout the year, and spends most of his time doing hands-on restoration and maintenance work:

“I love engineering, it’s in my family: previous generations helped build engines at the Hunslet rail plants, and I hope to become a mechanical engineer in the future. Helping here gives me amazing opportunities to build up knowledge and experience, as we work together to strip down and rebuild the engines, and fire them up and drive them. We’re all different ages who help here, but have a real laugh together.”

Ellen also has family members who previously worked at the local rail-building engineering plants, but herself does a range of roles at Middleton Railway, again throughout the year:

“I first started here when I was just eight, helping as an elf for the Christmas events. I now help to run the Christmas events, and train the younger elves like my sister. I also help with hands-on work with the engines, decorating, helping behind the desk, and more. It’s a great way to meet new people, and gain skills – and we have a lot of fun together. Anyone can help, just come down, there’s something for everyone.”

Middleton Railway is open several days per week through the summer, and special events include Heritage Open Days (8-9 September), ‘Last Coals to Leeds’ (28-29 September), and Santa Specials in December. Full info at their website here. Volunteers – most of whom are local – come from a range of ages and backgrounds; more are always welcome, to carry out a wide variety of roles; drop in or get in touch with them anytime to find out more.