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Cambrian Heritage Railways Volunteer Coordinator Phil carrying a bucket, Derwen student Harry carrying shears and teacher Ruth, all wearing orange high-vis jackets and ready for work.
Phil, Harry and Ruth prepare for another busy day clearing the railway.

Train enthusiast and Derwen College student, Harry, is combining his hobby with learning important life and work skills, at a weekly placement at Oswestry’s Cambrian Heritage Railways.

Harry is a student at Derwen College Walford, near Baschurch. He is on a Core Skills programme aimed at supporting him towards future independence and employment.

Harry, who is autistic and has some associated learning difficulties, enjoys a work experience placement, every Thursday at Cambrian Heritage Railways, as part of his work with the college’s horticulture enterprise ‘Leaf It To Us’.

Cambrian Heritage Railways trains run from Oswestry to Weston Wharf. The Oswestry station boasts a railway museum, restored signal box, period ticket office and waiting room.

Harry works alongside other volunteers and Volunteer Coordinator Phil Liddell clearing and maintaining the overgrown railway track at Oswestry. He has been going every week for two months and loves it, working hard, declaring: “No pain, no gain!”

Teacher Ruth Braddick says that the experience is benefitting Harry in many different ways. “When he first started here, Harry needed help to walk across the railway line and uneven ground. As we’ve seen his confidence grow, his balance has improved and he is able to navigate the landscape confidently on his own. It’s good for students to be exposed to different environments and challenges. He will now ask for help, and is stronger, fitter and more confident than when he started.”

Learning life skills

Volunteer Coordinator Phil accompanies Harry and teacher Ruth (who also gets stuck in with the strimmer). Ruth praises Phil for his patience and kindness. “Phil is absolutely brilliant with our students. He’s such a nice bloke and explains what needs doing and why, clearly. Phil is good at encouraging Harry to focus on the job, and really look at what needs doing.”

As well as learning work skills, students are learning many life skills. “The students have been able to meet different people, and other volunteers, and to talk to them. It’s not just about the work, they are gaining the skills needed to interact and build self-esteem,” continues Ruth.

Harry says he has learnt horticulture skills but also about how to stay safe and aware. “It’s fun. I’ve learnt that you have to sign in and out of work, how to stop the train in an emergency, and how to cross the track safely. You don’t step on the sleepers as they are wood and can be slippery.”

Harry also enjoys seeing the trains, and is looking forward to being a passenger on the train soon. “I like trains. All trains but especially steam trains.”

Phil says: “He’s a cracking helper. We’ll make sure he gets a ride on a train as a thank you. We might even be able to let him wave the guard’s flag.”

Cambrian Heritage Railways Volunteer Coordinator Phil cuts back a small tree, passing branches to Derwen student Harry to throw to one side
Harry and Phil make a great team.

Leaf It To Us

Leaf It To Us have worked on many local projects, including for Baschurch Parish Council, where they have helped clear a balance pond and have created and maintained a roundabout.

They’ve even helped to tidy the garden at Harry’s Mum’s new house. Harry’s experience has meant that he is able to help with the gardening at home, and is proud to say that he is now able to cut and move logs to help his Mum.

Ruth says that Harry’s work experience has supported him to be more independent in many different ways.

For example, as a member of Derwen College’s Student Union Board, Harry visited the Houses of Parliament on a college trip to London and tackled six flights of stairs.

Ruth says: “He would never have managed that before, and it was great to see him managing two steps at a time rather than gingerly considering every single step.

“He was straight up and down the stairs, and walked all over London.

“It was great to see how his confidence has grown, too. He had previously only met his fellow Student Union Board members on Teams, yet was confident to interact with them.”

Cambrian Railways run trains from April to September, with additional special events such as a Beer Festival from 2-4 June. They also offer private hire and driver experience days.

The Railway has long-term plans to extend the line to Gobowen, where Derwen College has its main site. We look forward to Harry and future student recruits, being part of this vision.

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