Rail enthusiasts will be able to stay in historic Hebden Bridge signal box
An historic signal box in Hebden Bridge hit by vandalism will get a new lease of life thanks to a grant of nearly £100,000.
The Victorian signal box, which has been disused and empty since 2018, will become a community-run heritage centre and quirky overnight accommodation thanks to the cash gifted to Calder Valley Community Land Trust.
The National Lottery Heritage Fund has given £99,600 to spend preserving the building, which has suffered from vandalism, and create a visitor centre as well as a place to stay.
The signal box dates back to the days of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway, and still has the original L and Y signal lever frame in place where it was installed in 1891. It has also received a Grade II listing from Historic England.
The grant follows three years of work by the Community Land Trust, in partnership with the Friends of Hebden Bridge Station, to find a sustainable future for the signal box under community ownership.
Simon Brearley, Chair of Calder Valley Community Land Trust, said: “The funding from The National Lottery Heritage Fund is fantastic news.
"We now have almost all the pieces together for the project to go ahead. This will be a heritage building which, we believe, will attract interest not just from Calderdale but from across the whole of the north of England.”
Under the proposals, Calder Valley Community Land Trust will oversee the restoration of the interior of the box.
A computer simulation will be installed, allowing visitors the virtual experience of using the existing signal levers to ‘take’ a ‘train’ through the Hebden Bridge section of track.
The National Lottery Heritage Fund are also supporting the appointment of a Project Officer who will work with local people, including schools and youth organisations, to enable visitors to better understand the importance of the signal box’s heritage.
A series of oral history recordings will be made of the experiences of former signal operators and the ground floor of the box will be adapted for visitors looking for unconventional overnight accommodation. Income from paying guests will help to fund maintenance of the fabric of the box.
David Renwick, Director, England, North at The National Lottery Heritage Fund ,said: “Railway heritage in the North is not only significant locally but for the wider region, and the preservation of the Hebden Bridge signal box will highlight important history for the community.
"Thanks to money raised by National Lottery players, we are proud to support Calder Valley Community Land Trust in this innovative project, that sees our industrial heritage celebrated in a new fashion that also creates an interesting and commercially sustainable future for the Grade II listed signal box.”
The venture has already attracted the support of the Railway Heritage Trust and an early £4,500 grant from Hebden Royd Town Council has enabled the Trust to commission local architect Jacquie Milham of Architectonic Design to prepare the necessary drawings.
Network Rail have said that they are highly supportive of the principle of a leasehold transfer of the building to the Trust and discussions are now taking place over the details of the transfer.
Dale Clarke, Property Services Manager for Network Rail, said: “We are delighted to be working with Calder Valley Community Land Trust to preserve the historic signal box. This funding is a huge step towards a heritage project which will allow the Grade II listed building to be enjoyed by people in the community as well as visitors to Hebden Bridge for years to come.
“As we continue to improve the railway and upgrade the signalling system to bring more reliable journeys for passengers, it’s great that people will be able to learn more about the history of the railway in the area.”
Calder Valley Community Land Trust is a charitable community benefit society, with over 250 members. It is already the legal custodian of the Fielden Hall in Todmorden, a Grade II heritage building, and recently raised community share capital to buy the adjacent land and buildings.
It is also trying to meet local housing needs by bringing new affordable homes to rent to the upper Calder Valley. Its first development, of six bungalows for independent living in later life, was completed in Walsden last year.