The first week of June is National Volunteering Week – and as Elsecar Heritage Railway is run by a 100% voluntary team it is a cause to celebrate all our volunteers.
Volunteering at Elsecar is a great way to learn new skills, make new friends and go on new adventures. We have roles available from engine drivers to office administration – so if you are able to help, we’d love to hear from you!
Marie Shipley-Beale is Elsecar Heritage Railway’s Secretary. When she was a child, Marie had dreams about becoming a steam engine driver, but social norms stood in her way. But following her retirement – through volunteering at EHR – she was able to rediscover those dreams.
Marie said: “The sad truth is that when I was growing up I wanted to be an engine driver. My Mum used to tell me about her Dad who worked with engines – and I developed a strong interest in them. Grandad was a shunting engine driver for the local colliery.
“However social norms and other challenges stopped me from achieving my dreams. My junior school was a girls-only establishment. Teaching, nursing and secretarial careers were the norm. Our teacher was very inspirational and encouraged us to follow our dreams, but perhaps not to British Rail.
“Having been told that little girls did not, I repeat, did not drive engines I had to rethink a career.”
Marie trained to be a music teacher, but did not enjoy the experience. She married and went into business with her husband. In 1985 she found herself training as a student nurse.
Marie continued: “I qualified as a student nurse at the local mental health hospital in 1988 and worked until I retired in 2013. I was a ward nurse, a community mental health nurse, and finally set up and managed a community service for people with challenging mental health disorders.”
Despite a good career in nursing, her passion for steam engines never faded.
“When I was 50, I was given a Footplate Experience on a large railway and I loved it, but they wouldn’t let me volunteer on the footplate there. Then, just before I retired, a friend who was a volunteer at Elsecar Heritage Railway bought me a footplate course. I found firing the locomotive was fascinating and I was assured by one of the crew that with training, I could become a fireman.
“I was keen to have an active retirement - not gain a doctorate in daytime tv - so I joined the railway.”
Marie was interviewed by Elsecar’s Director of Operations about what was required to achieve each grade, the exams and the early starts but her enthusiasm did not diminish.
“They said that I could train for the footplate, starting as a cleaner. Two weeks later I was preparing a warming fire for the Mardy Monster. At the same time I attended an AGM, where I went in as a new volunteer and came out as company secretary.
“Volunteering at Elsecar Heritage Railway has done everything to help me achieve my dreams. I have qualified as a Guard, a Shunter, a Second Man, a Diesel Driver and a Fireman – then, 55 years after I was told it was not possible, I qualified as a Steam Driver.”
Marie concluded: “I would encourage anyone considering volunteering at Elsecar to go for it. The Operations department is the ‘front end’ but it relies on a band of back office volunteers. Recently we’ve been joined by a number of volunteers with an enormous range of skills and enthusiasms who are now getting to grips with aspects of management of the railway.
“In the time I have been here I have learned new skills which keep the brain active - having to keep studying for exams. I’ve become much fitter and made a posse of new friends from all areas of the railway. What’s not to love?”