Warm Up: Worst ideas
As a “warm up” activity we quickly brainstormed what the worst for the carriage might be: We came up with theme park, night club, gym, doing nothing with it, shisha lounge, bar/restaurant, bed & breakfast, adventure playground, and prison.
The take away from this is that whatever we do, it should
• not encourage vandalism and littering (like excessive alcohol consumption) or become a target of vandalism
• not replicate what’s already out there
• not cause challenges with health & safety regulations
• not cause too many technical challenges (e.g., not requite complex plumbing or storage)
What we’ve learned so far 1: Walks & Talks
In the first meeting time we discussed the maps Seb made after the walks. The collective findings are:
• There are no offers for teenagers, but this is not a new finding. 30 years ago or even longer this was the same concern.
• There is a lot of litter and broken glass, or generally vandalism. That's connected to young people, but also adults and a general neglect by the Council.
• There is still the stigma attached to Meadow Well, because it's still associated with the riots, even 30 years later. And the consensus in the group was there’s very little hope that this will ever change.
We discussed what the Metro carriage could be, to perhaps address some of these issues:
• a space to get the young people of the street
• a safe space where there's youth workers to talk to. There are young people that feel they have to be part of these groups even though they actually don't want. So the Metro carriage could be a space to talk to someone who is not a parent or a teacher.
• an opportunity to make this a project where young people can get behind and really make it theirs, by helping transforming it into whatever space it should be, like they did with the graffiti wall and the skate park.
Action Point: We need some of the youth to join our meetings rather sooner than later (TJ, Mandi, Seb).
What we’ve learned so far 2: Valley Junction
We also went for a dinner to the Valley Junction restaurant, part of which is in a former train carriage. The manager came and told us a bit about the history. The train was from approx. 1910, and it was a luxury train car, so it never had regular seating in it. It used to be already a restaurant before the Indian restaurant took 30 years ago, so they didn't do that much work, besides, putting in carpets, wallpaper and new windows.
The walls were quite thick already and not typical train walls. It’s cold in the winter, because there's nothing underneath the floor. Presumably it also gets hot in summer, which is certainly something that we felt immediately when Mandi and Seb stepped into the carriage in Blyth.
The carriage felt a bit small for a restaurant, there was only three tables, but what we get is probably double the length, and the Metros are also wider.
Most of the fixtures were all modern, so they had installed plumbing and electricity, but we don't really know how much work that was back in the days.
What we’ve learned so far 3: Dale School in Blyth
From the visit to Blyth, it became clear how huge the train is when you actually stand in front of it.
And hearing their story, there's lots of little things you don't think about that need to be done, but we got the sense that it is not impossible, it can be done. A few things to consider:
Verify that there's no coal mine underneath. Consult the mining institute to request maps. For our location, having the metro line next to it means there are probably no mines. On the other hand, there used to be mines along Waterville Road, which is just next to it. The reason that the land is not built upon does not mean there is a mine underneath. Mandi has heard that this is where they put all the waste when they built the estate. The land might be contaminated, but we don’t know by what degree. Action point: Contact mining institute (Mandi)
We might not need permission from the neighbours, but it would be sensible to get them involved. We discussed posting some flyers to let them know and invite them to come to a meeting. We don't want the Metro car to become a point of anti-social behaviour that then detrimentally affects them. Mandi also hopes that they could become our eyes and ears when we’re not here. Not that they have to take any action, but that there is a number that they could call. Action Point: Prepare flyer for neighbours (Seb)
The train needs to sit on rails, and the rails need to sit on something to distribute the weight. On a railway line that’s ballast, but loose rocks become a danger. You can put a resin on the ballast, but that’s expensive. You could put a fence or mesh around the rocks, but there are other solutions altogether, like laying concrete slabs all along the way. Nick might have some advice on that, he also recommended to speak to civil engineers. Action Point: TJ knows an ex-civil engineer; he will ask him.
Reaching out to businesses
The people from the school said that they got quite a lot of advice and support from businesses which made a big difference. For example, they got a civil engineering company to build a steel platform with a ramp and stairs to access the train for free. This along would have costed £38k. Action Point for everyone: If you have contacts to local businesses that could help with anything on the train, get in touch with them.
As an alternative to a steel platform, we discussed an earth mound, to better link it to the garden. And you cannot not vandalise it.
Removing parts of the train
In Blyth they got the full train and had to remove all the parts they did not want themselves, which was hard work (the upholstered seats had a fungus and needed to be removed). In our case, we just need to tell Nexus in the application what parts we don’t need, e.g., the engine or parts of the seating. Any liquids that are toxic will also be removed. It will be necessary to draw design of how it would look and which original features we want to preserve. Action Points: Dale has a few friends who interior design and will ask them. Mandi and Liz will speak to George Bond who did the interior design for Cedarwood to ask him if he could help. Seb will speak to interior designers at the university.
We also learned from Blyth that it will take a long time. Once we are successful we first need to prepare the land, wait until it gets delivered, and then prepare the carriage so it can actually be used. It took another school in Durham 4 years until they got that far.
It will also cost a lot of money. The school in Blyth’s estimate was about £200,000 to do the preparation of the land and the refit, including all things needed for health and safety and fire safety. It's a big job, but not impossible. There's a lot of stuff to take care of, so the more support we can get from people in the community and local businesses the better. We can do community fundraising, but we will also need big capital bids. Mandi said that we’ve got some support from an engineering consulting company called Cundalls, who will give us some initial advice about the structural things, but we don't know whether or not they are willing to get involved with actually giving us any material help for free.
Energy & Heating
We also talked about electricity for heating and air conditioning, because it was really hot when we visited. Mandi’s initial ideas was to make it energy efficient and maybe have solar power rather than mains power. Cundalls suggested that the roof of the metro carriage wouldn’t be big enough the generate enough electricity but we could potentially put them on top of the food bank. If Cundalls can demonstrate how much energy they helped saving us, they can offset that against their own carbon usage.
We also learned that trains are not waterproof. They're designed that when they move, no water gets in. But when they stand still the elements come in, e.g., under the doors. In Blyth they decided to seal the whole train with some form of paint, waterproof the exterior and the windows. The school in in Durham went the other route of actually insulating it, which is also warmer, but it changes the look of the carriage internally.
Who do we want to do this for and with
We then brainstormed who this Metro carriage should be for. This was not to later monitor or restrict actual use, but to emphasise with future users and their goals and needs.
Who is this carriage for:
Different age groups:
• Children aged 5 to 12, particularly those who attend MWC’s kids club.
• 10 to 16 year olds - the age where they're a little bit more mobile and they're wanting to connect with maybe adults, but to have chats, but also for creativity. It might be that they've got a problem, but they might also have an idea.
• Up to age of 18 and local kids is primary target
• Over 50s. There’s nothing in the area for older people, e.g. social nights, Instead of being stuck in the house watching telly. During the weekdays there are offers at Cedarwood and MWC, but everything closes at 5pm. However, we discussed that his is difficult, because many older people don’t want to go out at night, not because they are scared but because they are set in their ways and don’t change easily.
Different geographical areas:
Primary focus is on Meadow Well and Chirton, but we can also cater for those from Howdon to North Shields to bring together different communities.
• Underprivileged youth and poor children
• Young adults with mental health problems
• People with disabilities
• Young families to come together and talk about shared experiences and challenges (e.g., if they have special needs and there’s other parents they can talk to).
• Single mothers
• Creative people who would like this space to work, particularly those who do not have a creative outlet.
• People interested in art and music
• Train enthusiasts
• Residents who would have pride in a Metro carriage.
• Anyone who wants to meet others – it’s for everybody, not just for young people
• People who work – most community things that happen locally are designed for people who aren’t working. But people who do work still need some support, especially single parents.
We need a flexible space
• It became clear that the diverse needs require the following of the Metro carriage:
• It’s open to anyone and for the benefit of everyone.
• Different people can come at different times of the day, so there is different services or different actives for different people. It should not just be a “youth club” because then it will be avoided by older people. There will be youth sessions and there will be sessions for other age groups and needs.
• It should be seen as an extension and joint initiative of all three community charities, not just MWC. They are just the custodians of the land where it happens to sit.
• It needs to be open and offer activities in evenings and weekends to go beyond what the three community charities currently offer.
• It needs to be adjustable so it can adapt to changing needs.
• A place to just socialise and hang out that is a safe space for self-expression
• A place people can be proud of
• A place that helps addressing issues of stigmatisation and poverty
• Innovative using renewable technologies for heat, lightning, etc.
We discussed doing a survey in the local area to ask people what they would like to do or see happening in the evenings. Mandi explained that they did a community survey in November 2021, which did say people wanted more things for young people to do. They also wanted better access to green spaces. They didn't necessarily ask them about what time they wanted things to be done, but they asked that the previous time they did a survey, and lots of people said they wanted evening and weekend activities. MWC then trialled many of evening and weekend things and nobody came. So it’s not that straightforward.
Brainstorming of Specific Uses/Activities
• A space for everyone to hang out
• Specific social hours for specific groups e.g., youth, parents, people with disabilities, older people
• Book club
• Movie nights
• gardening sessions on the land around the metro
• earth access ramp, a link to the natural environment
• a park outside the metro carriage (long-term)
• Music sessions/nights
• Spray painting
• Display heritage and history of the area in a positive way
• Rotating art exhibitions
• Coding skills
• Bike maintenance
• A safe space to talk
• Support groups
• Consultations with a specialist
• Sensory room
• Sexual health clinic
• C-card (free condoms)
• A defibrillator
• First aid sessions
• Day walks
• Other sports
Regarding spray painting: The outside should be a graffiti wall, which will be for temporary use. TJ explained that unless it's a memorial, anyone can just go and cover up earlier artwork as long as the piece has been up for at least two weeks and others had a chance to look at it. This is common ground for most artists of respecting another artist’s work.
Next Meeting: Further elaboration of these ideas and prioritisation
Competition with others
Mandi explained that Nexus originally wanted to put one carriage in each of the areas the metro runs, there’s seven of them. Nexus told her that for the initial expression of interest they had more applications from North Tyneside than from any other area, seven altogether. Some of them had to be discounted either because the Council disagreed or for various other reasons. For the final application we are 1 of 4, so we've got a 25% chance of actually being awarded the carriage. We might actually have a higher chance because of where we are and because we’ve already thought of many of the technical challenges and do this work of developed ideas. Getting professional drawings to be included in the application would further strengthen the bid.