It's A Wonderful Lie title
Tuesday 4th December 2018

Virgin Trains Evicting Award-Winning Voluntary Mental Health Organisation

In what appears to be an exercise in gross hypocrisy, Virgin Trains are evicting an established, multi-award-winning, non-profit social enterprise designed to improve personal and community wellbeing, Creative Wellbeing Ltd, from Carlisle railway station. Just in time for Christmas.

While simultaneously self-aggrandising on Facebook, “This Christmas, we’re painting the script of ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ across our platforms all the way from Euston to Glasgow. Think of it as a very long and yellow reminder that a little kindness can make a big difference to someone's life”, Virgin Trains is reneging on over four years’ worth of promises by making a popular local organisation  that provides care to some of the area's most vulnerable, literally, homeless.

Without irony, Virgin’s post goes on to say, “In fact, it could save somebody's life. Together with our charity partner, Rethink Mental Illness, we're on a mission to spread a little kindness this Christmas. Will you help us? #itsawonderfulline.”

The painting of this much beloved script on Carlisle’s platforms will begin 12th December, six days after they’ve booted Creative Wellbeing from their room on Platform 1.

Again, just in time for Christmas.
UPDATE 8/12
Creative Wellbeing have still heard nothing from Virgin Trains, not even a reply to their solicitor's letters 30/11.
However, we understand VT have stated that they've supported CW for over ten years, endowed gifts and that CW have made unreasonable demands.
"We've only been going since 2013!" exclaimed Rebecca. "We opened at the station June 2014. Being allowed to use the space for four years is amazing and we're so grateful but, as for gifts, VT promised us so much more than just the room."
Here's a list of commitments made by Virgin (and what they actually delivered).

"Creative Wellbeing makes you feel good. It helps your depression and anxiety. You can learn new things while making new friends."
Suzanna - 22.3.18
In April 2014, to bolster their bid to continue profiting from the West Coast Main Line, Virgin Trains invited Creative Wellbeing to use spaces within the station to deliver their free and inclusive creative activities. They have done so successfully almost every single week since, delivering over 1600 sessions, and welcoming hundreds of people from all walks or life—most often those in most need—into an environment where everyone is made to feel equal, able to explore their creativity, and, if they like, just sit and have a cuppa. All for free.

Rebecca Mellor, founder and director, says, “It’s absolutely devastating. Even during my maternity leave some of our amazing volunteers managed to keep the doors open. That was so important. We have been a crucial point of stability and warmth for so many people. Some travel all the way from south Cumbria and the Borders—50 miles or more. It’s bewildering that, after being told repeatedly that there would always be a place for us here at the station, we’re being treated so horribly.”

She goes on to say, “We've been told that Creative Wellbeing was specifically mentioned in Virgin’s multi-billion pound tender document to prove that it’s not all about the profiteering but, now the deal is long secured, it appears our assistance in keeping VT in the money is no longer required. We’re all hugely grateful to Virgin for having provided us the space but their deteriorating attitude and now unreasonable eviction is just wrong and will impact terribly on so many local people, just before Christmas.”
Creative Wellbeing Room
Mere days after offering Creative Wellbeing a long-promised lease to formalise their use of rooms at the station and uphold the many pledges of support offered by station managers Michael Byrne and Mark Green (and several staff with a community remit), an abrupt solicitor’s letter demanded Creative Wellbeing vacate the premises in 14 days. No reason or explanation was given and the organisation, which has engaged thousands of people, found itself desperately trying to find help.

Nobody from Virgin Trains has responded to Creative Wellbeing’s pleas for the lease it was promised or, at the very least, reasonable time to relocate—only cold legalese and dismissal from law firm Shakespeare Martineau—another company whose published CSR document reeks of hypocrisy (http://shma.co.uk/Who-we-are/CSR.aspx). The entire Virgin Trains executive team has been emailed and there has been not one single reply.

Rebecca says, “Although Carlisle has been our base—first in the Community Resource Centre at Shaddongate (where Cumbria Volunteer Services are now located) and then the Old Fire Station before it was converted—we have delivered sessions all over. The County Council kindly funded a six week programme in West Cumbria in 2014 and the first quarter of 2018 was spent providing sessions in Allerdale and Copeland because we won, by popular vote, a competition led by Sellafield designed to help local people. We partnered with libraries, GP surgeries, colleges… anyone who was invested in helping their community. Everyone loved it and we’ve had dozens and dozens of requests to go back west and do more.”
"This has been good for me getting me out of the house and starting to talk to people again - it’s great to be a part of the community again after my illness. Creative Wellbeing helps me in my recuperating."
Gladys - 13.3.18
Despite receiving no core funding, Rebecca has kept the service going for nearly six years through sheer bloody determination and a belief that what Creative Wellbeing does is necessary—crucial at a time of swingeing cuts to local services, especially those helping those in most need. Cumbria County Council has helped twice with project funding and, along with a small amount of in-session donations, Creative Wellbeing has been able to keep going. However, without the space provided by Virgin Trains, the service will cease, perhaps permanently.

“We were promised a ‘secure, established base’ by Michael Stewart, Commercial Finance Business Partner at VT and storage area for the enormous amount of materials we have been donated and use every week to support the sessions. We may be well established but we are no longer secure—far from it. If this eviction goes ahead all of our materials and furniture are at risk of being dumped in a skip.”

Creative Wellbeing has made Virgin Trains aware that it was impossible to move out in the time demanded but still faces eviction this coming Thursday with no means to move their materials and nowhere to house them, even temporarily.

“We simply don’t have the money to cover the many van loads and storage it would take. Add on the car accident and, well, we can’t go anywhere.”

Rebecca and family were driven into at high speed on a wet Friday night in November. Stranded with their two-year-old daughter on one of the busiest roads in Lincolnshire, the family were lucky to escape with only severe concussion and whiplash. They lost all of their luggage and clothing. Their car was written off.
Creative Wellbeing's last session at the station, 9th November 2018
The last session, 9th November 2018
The last session—maybe ever—at the station, Friday 9th November, was typical enough. A dozen adults, some accompanied by their carers, getting together to make things and feel connected to a larger world. Sadly, it was typical for another, darker reason. The group, new to the railway station, were told by Virgin staff that Creative Wellbeing wasn’t on that day and wouldn’t even give directions to its room on Platform 1.

“Most staff at the station have been lovely but it’s hard to understand the level of animus and rude, shoddy behaviour some Virgin staff have shown us. We’ve been forced to complain a couple of times. If we’d been train customers, which we often are, and been treated that way, these people would be under disciplinary measures.”
Bits 'n' bobs of participants' work
At the risk of over-egging the classic film connection, in this narrative it seems like Creative Wellbeing is surely the Bailey Brothers' Building and Loan—with Rebecca standing in for Jimmy Stewart. I guess that makes Virgin Trains the warped and frustrated Mr Potter, #6 on the American Film Institute's list of the greatest villains in film history.

For Creative Wellbeing, this is no mawkish work of fiction and the real villains may be empty promises and a complete lack of accountability.

Oh, and Virgin Trains.

UPDATE: Virgin's (broken) promises

Virgin Trains' claim that they have gifted Creative Wellbeing more than enough over the past ten years is a curious, and factually incorrect, excuse for kicking them out—is the four years they've actually been there too short a time to deserve the boot?—and they have yet to see most of the partnership pledges Virgin Trains made.

In 2015, this list was widely circulated amongst Virgin Train's management and community staff:
  • CW encouraged to use all the resources available to Virgin, as a means to develop Creative Wellbeing and also have a broader network to shout about the way Virgin are supporting Creative Wellbeing and Virgin’s commitment to community engagement
  • Activity delivery room and storage space, with alternative provision for any changes that may affect current use of rooms
  • View to developing currently unused, derelict archway space for development of a permanent space for Creative Wellbeing in association with Virgin Trains with renovation work by Cumbria Probation Service, Creative Wellbeing and partners
  • Ability to create pop-up shop for fundraising on platform
  • Parking provision during delivery times and prep time
  • Train travel on Virgin networks for events to develop Creative Wellbeing as a community-focussed partner
  • Printed materials, poster, leaflets etc and photocopies via in-house reprographics department
  • Accessing training and workshops
  • Business support including accounts auditing
  • Mutual promotion
  • Develop Creative Wellbeing with the physical network that Virgin Trains provides on the West Coast and beyond, with a view to having liveried carriages for activities
  • Supporting Virgin Trains' CSR and Sustainable Development plan
In their move to platform one—from their original rooms on platform four—they were also promised intallation of a sink. Virgin reneged on the offer, saying they'd have to pay £500. Not having running water in the room has been a huge problem hygienically and in terms of what can be delivered. Painting and clay work is practically impossible and the often hostile staff room, where the only potable water could be drawn, is a long way to carry the many tens of litres of water needed on an average day.

Rebecca says, "We were unfunded and looking at ways to raise money. VT regularly fundraise for local causes. After raising over £30,000 for a nearby charity we were told that they would do that for us too, yearly. It sounded amazing, too good to be true."

And so it was.

Creative Wellbeing has received, since June 2014:
  • An activity room and under-platform storage space. Both were empty with no plans for development by VT
  • One train journey to a national wellbeing event late 2014 at which CW promoted VT's CSR ambitions
  • One parking pass. They were promised two but later told to buy a season pass instead, advertised at £1200
When asked about Virgin's accusation that Creative Wellbeing had made unreasonable demands, Rebecca says, "In our last communication regarding the lease they had proffered, we ended by saying that all we needed was acknowledgement that the storage room was part of the contract and that the spaces were for our sole use—the simplest things they promised years ago. Nothing more. Neither I, our solicitor, or anyone else I've spoken to, thinks that's unreasonable."

I have to agree.

Can you help?

If you can help in any way, even a simple 'good luck', please email:
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Testimonials

A small selection of what people have had to say. There are hundreds more...
Creative Wellbeing has been a lifeline to me. It has helped me to meet some wonderful people, got me out of the house and recognising my own skills and creativity.
Sue Cullen

They welcome everyone and it feels like home and in some cases better than home. Everyone that comes feels the difference straight away. They’re treated as human beings.
Sofia Menezes

Creative Wellbeing gets me out of the house and has helped me develop my confidence in every aspect of life. I learn new skills and feel I am managing better. I feel positive, motivated and more creative and have had my medication reduced twice since starting coming to sessions. I experiment with my daughter more and have lots more ideas to play and help her learn. It has opened my mind to the things that I can do for myself and for my family.
Hayley Rogers

I’ve got so much out of it, I don’t know where to begin! I was new to Carlisle, lonely and had a stressful job, Creative Wellbeing has been a home from home for me!
John Hill

It improves health and wellbeing. It is a very valuable project for the community. It invites people from all walks of life and cultures to participate in creative activities that bring people out of isolation and stress and help people forget their stress and loneliness and meet like-minded people, work on their creative abilities, improve confidence and make things they can be proud of and enjoy company and creativity.
Caroline Barratt

Creative Wellbeing makes you feel good. It helps your depression and anxiety. You can learn new things while making new friends
Suzanna

The best part of the session was the friendly, welcoming atmosphere which felt very supportive and positive. I really enjoyed it and felt that I got a lot out of it.
Sue Strawbridge

This has been good for me getting me out of the house and starting to talk to people again - its great to be a part of the community again after my illness. Creative wellbeing helps me in my recuperating
Gladys

We all need to do creative, not in a costly way due to survive in money world, Rebecca actually provide free, please appreciate, like I do!
Ju Singh

I think the atmosphere that Rebecca has created and the creativity brought in by the artists has made the sessions very enjoyable. These sessions have shown that people have developed skills in arts and also in health. As the relaxed atmosphere is fabulous. Fridays wont be the same without them.
Pam Eland

Going to Creative Wellbeing is like having a massage in a way for me, it feels good and you are really relaxed when you’re there, but when you leave you’re so uplifted and positive, and that’s when I feel the real benefit; for the rest of the week.
Barry Goulding
Paul Batey
I am a director at Creative Wellbeing and will do everything in my power to keep it going.
After fatherhood, it's the most important thing I've ever done.