Unique link formed between heritage railway and day centre

Working together - from the Pottergate Pantry and Aln Valley Railway - (front) Natalie Mallaburn, Ken Middlemist, Catherine Burrowdale, (back) Gilly Henderson, Chris Purdom, Mike Christian, Doreen Coleman, Roger Jermy, Judy Thompson and Ann Johnson.
Working together - from the Pottergate Pantry and Aln Valley Railway - (front) Natalie Mallaburn, Ken Middlemist, Catherine Burrowdale, (back) Gilly Henderson, Chris Purdom, Mike Christian, Doreen Coleman, Roger Jermy, Judy Thompson and Ann Johnson.

A unique partnership is on the menu between a heritage railway and a service catering for adults with learning disabilities.

The Pottergate Centre, in Alnwick, is to provide the refreshments at the town’s Lionheart station, which is part of the ambitious Aln Valley Railway (AVR) development.

Pottergate clients will work in a café at the site, and it is possible that some will be able to help the railway in other areas, such as gardening or sales.

It is believed that this is the first joint venture of this type by a heritage railway and a day centre.

The railway has provided a portable building in which the café will be developed, with the necessary investment in staff, equipment and materials being provided by Pottergate.

Roger Jermy, from the AVR, said: “We are delighted to have established this link with the Pottergate Centre.

“It will relieve the railway of the responsibilities of training staff and running the café, and will ensure, with the expertise and enthusiasm of the Pottergate staff, that high-quality goods and refreshments will always be available at Lionheart station.

“This is the beginning of an exciting collaboration.”

The Pottergate Centre, based on Howling Lane, is run jointly by Northumberland County Council and Northumbria Healthcare, for people aged 18 to 65 with learning, and sometimes additionally, physical disabilities.

About 10 years ago a small bakery group that was run weekly in the centre was identified as a potential social enterprise and this has developed into a successful business.

More than 15 people work daily in the Pottergate Pantry providing meals for a range of groups and organisations, including Branton First School.

Pottergate Pantry has a steadily growing reputation in the Alnwick area.

Head of the Pottergate Centre, Stephanie Stafford, said: “We are looking forward to this joint venture with the railway.

“We will run our own café at Lionheart station and sell our goods through the café and shop.

“This café was the next natural step for our business which we want to be worthwhile and innovative.

“We believe we can complement the efforts of the railway.”

The railway project is an ambitious plan to reopen the branch line from Alnmouth to Alnwick.

Work at the Alnwick site is underway and it is hoped that short train rides will take place there by the end of February.