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.
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.”