From left to right: Singer-songwriter Sam Slatcher, Bishop Line Community Rail Officer Felicity Machnicki, writer and illustrator Lizzie Lovejoy, author and poet Carmen Marcus & writer and theatre maker Becci Sharrock (Photo credit: Rob Irish)
As the North East steams ahead to the bicentenary of the Stockton & Darlington Railway in 2025, local artists have begun gathering stories from today’s passengers and why the railway matters. On Thursday 20th April, artists from the ‘Storylines’ project boarded the 09:55 from Darlington to Saltburn to launch a new initiative taking place this summer. Their journeys will follow the route of the Stockton & Darlington Railway as they chat to passengers, collect stories, and share hidden tales of the line’s fascinating heritage. Opened in 1825, the original line is the world’s first locomotive-powered public railway which changed the way the world trades, travels and communicates.
Storylines is commissioned by North East social enterprise Citizen Songwriters CIC who run The Story Train, a creative arts space in the Durham Dales, in partnership with the Bishop Line Community Rail Partnership. The Bishop Line’s Felicity Machnicki says “The celebration of the 200th Anniversary of the Stockton & Darlington Railway is an extremely important event for the Bishop Line, being part of the original route. We’re so pleased to be working with all the creative partners on the Storylines project to help bring the 2025 celebration to the forefront of people's minds and involve local people in preparing for this momentous celebration”. The artists include four poets who live along the line who will be creating poems to decorate station platforms: Darlington-born Lizzie Lovejoy, writer, illustrator and storyteller, Saltburn-based Carmen Marcus, author, poet and one of the Writer’s Guild of Great Britain’s recipients of the New Play Commission Scheme; Newcastle-based Rowan McCabe, “the world’s first Door-to-door poet” and Harry Gallagher, Teesside-born poet and former ‘BBC Tees poet for National Poetry Day'. The artists also include Becci Sharrock, writer, theatre maker and creative producer commissioned to write a modern adaption of The Railway Children, and Sam Slatcher, singer-songwriter and one of the founders of Citizen Songwriters who will be writing an album of songs inspired by the railway’s stories of old and new.
For Lizzie Lovejoy, writer and storyteller, "there is something magical about this train journey. This line revolutionised the world of work and travel, providing opportunities for working-class people that didn't rely on one town alone. It provided connection, between place and people. We are continuing that tradition” Becci Sharrock remarked, “in a short space of time it was really clear how evocative train journeys are for people and how many memories are attached to this kind of transport”. The creative output of the artists will be showcased at events marking the anniversary of the railway in September. Some of the poems will be appearing at the stations along the Bishop Auckland to Saltburn route. The project is supported with funding from Northern and Cross Country. Lizzie again: “Conversation is connection, and this first day of story sharing has shown just how important our words are”. For Becci, “it's only day one and it already feels like a really special project to be a part of - I can't wait to see where it takes us."
You can find out more about the project and read more about the artists-in-residence here.