Severn Valley Railway launches £1.5 million survival fund appeal

The Severn Valley Railway has launched a £1.5 million Survival Fund appeal to enable it to overcome the current financial crisis.

It’s appealing for donations, and warns that a viable future for the railway will be at risk unless there is an urgent injection of cash.

The railway has reassured passengers that it is fully committed to delivering the highest standards of quality and experience over the coming year, but says it needs additional funding to enable it to survive and thrive in the future.
 
Senior managers say that the railway has been profoundly affected by changes in the financial climate over the past three years. These have come about as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, the war in Ukraine, post-Brexit supply chain issues and the cost-of-living crisis. Chris Walton, interim chairman of SVR (Holdings) Plc, said:
 
“We’re facing the double whammy of escalating costs and lower revenue. Costs across the railway have spiralled, including utilities, coal, diesel, steel, copper, catering supplies and interest rates.

"For example, in the past 12 months alone, our electricity bill has more than doubled, and this year it will not be far short of £500,000. All of these factors are outside our control.
 
“Put this against the fact that passenger numbers were down last year by about a third, compared to pre-Covid. That equated to around £1.5 million in lost revenue, which has left us badly weakened.”
 
The SVR has already put many cost-saving measures in place, including recruitment freezes for non-essential roles as well as voluntary and compulsory redundancies. For the first months of this season, it’s running services on fewer days per week than last year, in order to cut back on operating costs. This will be reviewed in May.

Jonathan ‘Gus’ Dunster is the SVR’s interim managing director. He gave a reassurance that, despite the challenges being faced, the railway will give an engaging and value-for-money experience to visitors. He said:
 
“We’ve made sure our offer to passengers for 2023 is as exciting and varied as you’d expect from a leading and award-winning heritage railway and visitor attraction, and we’re confident that we can deliver on and surpass visitor expectations.
 
“However, operating a heritage railway is a cyclical business,” he continued. “For several months at the beginning of each year, there’s very little income, because we’re not open to the public. Pre-Covid, we got ourselves through this lean time by having a cash reserve in the bank. But that option has been taken away by the combined financial challenges of the past three years.
 
“Unless we address this situation urgently, we won’t be able to lift the railway out of the financial difficulties it’s now facing. The Survival Fund will help us through the coming, very difficult year, in order to start 2024 with a sufficient ‘reserve’. Then we’ll stand a real chance of getting the railway properly back on its feet, so it can thrive and be fit for the future.”
 
The Survival Fund appeal has been launched jointly by the three companies that form the Severn Valley Railway – SVR (Holdings) Plc, the SVR Company Ltd and the SVR Charitable Trust. Chris added:
 
“We place huge value on the support the SVR has received over the years. This has helped it to grow from its humble beginnings in the 1960s into one of the UK’s leading, award-winning and much-loved heritage railways.

"It’s meant the preservation of our buildings, infrastructure, locomotives, rolling stock and artefacts for future generations to enjoy, and it brings pleasure to many thousands of people each year, generating tremendous economic benefit for the surrounding communities.

"We would not be making this appeal if it wasn’t completely necessary for the survival of the Railway, and we hope our supporters will understand the difficulties we face, and give us their backing.”
 
Donations to the SVR’s Survival Fund appeal can be made at svr.co.uk.

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