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Mid Hants Railway ‘Watercress Line’

The Mid Hants Railway Ltd, famously nicknamed ‘The Watercress Line’ in the early c20th for its role in transporting the crop to London, is Hampshire’s only standard gauge heritage railway. It runs for 10 miles through idyllic countryside along the border of the South Downs National Park, between the market towns of Alton and Alresford. Opened on the 2nd October 1865 as the Alton, Alresford and Winchester Railway, it became part of British Railways until its hotly contested closure in 1973. The line and services were quickly reinstated by a dedicated preservation group and today the Watercress Line is one of the South’s premier visitor attractions, attracting 125,000 visitors annually with a turnover in excess of £2m. The Railway employees 50 staff and 8 engineering apprentices, but is supported by over 450 dedicated volunteers without which it could not function. It is committed to preserving Hampshire’s railway heritage and maintains a fleet of steam and diesel locomotives, rolling stock and infrastructure that create the essence of a bygone age. As a living history attraction, it provides a comprehensive timetable from February to October and throughout December with standard running days and many special events including ‘Day Out With Thomas’, War on the Line, Wizard Weekend, Steam Galas and Santa Specials. Other popular services include the famous Real Ale Train (RAT), The Watercress Belle and the Countryman Dining trains.

24 January 2017
Voluntary, Recreation, heritage
Local Alliances:
Hampshire Dementia Action Alliance

1. Action Plan

1. The National Dementia Declaration lists seven outcomes that the DAA are seeking to achieve for people with dementia and their carers. How would you describe your organisation’s role in delivering better outcomes for people with dementia and their carers?

We provide an experience of the bygone era of steam travel. By training staff and volunteers in dementia awareness we will be able to provide a more enjoyable visit. This will allow them to experience the sights, sounds and smells of the railway with as little issues as possible. Stimulating and enjoyable experiences improve people’s well-being and quality of life, and we hope to be part of this. Through completing our action points we will be offering a dementia friendly environment for people with dementia and their carer’s. We hope that this will provide carers with a local attraction where they can feel safe in the knowledge that staff and volunteers will be able to help (when needed) and no matter the issue it will be resolved without fuss or judgement. 

2. What are the challenges to delivering these outcomes from the perspective of your organisation?

Our main challenge with delivering these outcomes surrounds our locomotives, carriages and stations. Our aim as an organisation is to preserve, operate and exhibit for public benefit, educational and instructional purposes, and to stimulate and encourage interest in, all kinds of railway transportation systems, vehicles and equipment; to foster and support railway preservation. We have adapted the buildings and stations as much as possible to improve access and inclusivity without losing its period features. We have a number of carriages which provide disabled access while still in keeping with its original design. Any outcomes that arise in radical changes to the historical building, carriages or locomotives will be hard to deliver. 

2. Actions

  • Dementia Awareness raising for workforce

    We will make our staff and volunteers, especially those who come into contact with our customers, dementia aware.

    Sessions will be available to staff and volunteers from January 2017. We already have 11 volunteers and staff who took part in the dementia awareness sessions and have become Dementia Friends. The sessions will be easy to organise as the Outreach and Interpretation Officer has trained as a Dementia Friends Champion.

    We aim to make our 450 volunteers and 50 staff dementia aware.


    Being implemented
  • Dementia Friendly Helper always on hand

    To ensure we can always help when help is needed, both now and in the future, we commit to having at least 1 ‘Dementia Friendly’ person available at all times by including Dementia Awareness in our induction/training process

    Achieve by Ensuring all staff have had access to a dementia friend’s awareness session and making it part of the induction process for all new staff that join the railway

     PlanningSessions will be available to staff and volunteers from January 2017. The sessions will be easy to organise as the Outreach and Interpretation Officer has trained as a Dementia Friends Champion

  • Linking in with local Dementia Action Groups (DAGs)

    Create a dialogue with the local DAGs, linking with them can help to link in with local people with dementia to get feedback on how to help them access the railway, but also, they may be able to support/create events on the railway.

    Achieve by: Identifying local DAGS, e.g. Alton and getting in contact to create a working relationship with these groups, which can help us improve the railway for people living with dementia.


  • Environment Awareness and improvement

    Review of how the environments at our sites may impact people with dementia creating barriers to their enjoyment of the railway. Creation of solutions to environmental issues, implemented where possible during transformation process and added for consideration in future planning where not currently feasible. Staff awareness of ways to support people where changes can’t be made included in staff training.

    Achieve by: Liaising with local groups to do mystery shopping on the railway and relay and discuss feedback with managers and transformation team in order to add solutions into planning process.

  • Basket of Memories Activity

    Our Basket of Memories session is designed to add to a group’s enjoyment of their outing to the Watercress Line, to stimulate discussion and revive memories whilst enjoying a journey through the Hampshire Countryside behind a restored steam locomotive to create a memorable experience. 

    Achieve by: Creating Basket of Memories, promoting as an offer during groups train ride and booking sessions.

    This activity is available to use during the journey and can be booked for any of our weekday lunchtime or afternoon departures from Alresford. The activity can be led by one of the Education team or self-led.

    Being implemented