Tramcar 245 and the joy of volunteering

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Human connection is so important and lucky as I am to have my family around me in lockdown I am missing my friends and colleagues very much. I miss the Museum of Liverpool as a physical entity – I miss all the objects, the way it smells, our fabulous staff and the quiche and chips!

As part of my role caring for the transport collection, I have been aided and abetted by many volunteers who are part of a special interest group. They are passionate and knowledgeable about a particular vehicles or set of vehicles, they know them inside out and volunteer to maintain, restore or advocate for the said vehicle(s). They enrich my working life with their knowledge, enthusiasm and dedication to their cause and I am missing all of them too.

Merseyside Tramway Preservation Society

The first special interest group I met was the Merseyside Tramway Preservation Society (MTPS). I visited them at Wirral Transport Museum on a Thursday evening – they sat me on a tram and started to show me photographs of the conditions their trams had arrived in – direct from a life as a potting shed or a sports club HQ, dilapidated and rotting. But they saw the potential, they knew what they could do. Years of work later these trams were transformed into beautifully finished and fully working examples of local transport. 

trams inside a huge warehouse
Tramcar 245 surrounded by restored trams at Wirral Transport Museum

My love for the group was cemented on a trip to the National Tramway Museum in Crich, Derbyshire in 1997. We visited to commemorate 40 years since the last trams ran in Liverpool and ate a tram-shaped cake (what else?). Highlight of the day though was being allowed to drive Liverpool tramcar 869 down the track – an experience I will never forget!

The restoration of Tramcar 245

The volunteers at MTPS had longed to restore Tramcar 245 which was in the collection of National Museums Liverpool (NML) and not long after my visit to them I received a formal request for loan. This took many years and ups and downs to complete but the tram was eventually moved to Birkenhead and a feasibility study begun. 

The volunteers have worked together for many years, planning programmes of work and solving complex problems with superb results. I never had any doubts about what they could achieve - their enthusiasm is unbounded and their craftsmanship unmatched. Some members were wary of me and the museum’s intentions at the start but over the years we have developed an understanding because in the end we all wanted the same thing – Tramcar 245 up and running.

Eventually a partnership between NML, MTPS and Wirral Borough Council resulted in a £50,000 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. The work was completed in six years and Tramcar 245 was successfully launched on 12 September 2015. It was a fabulous day full of music, laughter and a whole load of pride. As I rode down the track on 245 with some of the volunteers I couldn’t have been more in my element. The tram (in normal times) runs on the Birkenhead Heritage Tramway and is a joy to behold. 

unveiling the freshly restored Tramcar 245
Launching the newly restored Tramcar 245

The total cost of the project was around £70,000 but without the volunteers dedicated labour (some of them put in hundreds of hours and others thousands) and unsurpassed knowledge the cost would have been in the hundreds of thousands and beyond our reach. The volunteers made it happen and as one of them said afterwards they all got paid the same – tea and biscuits! 

Out and about with Tramcar 245

Tramcar 245 has since won online Tram of the Year (2015) and the Heritage Railway Association Carriage and Wagon Award for self propelled vehicles.

people queuing to get on the tram
A queue forms for Tramcar 245 at Wirral Bus and Tram Show 2019

Wirral Transport Museum is the focal point for the Wirral Bus and Tram Show held annually on the first Sunday in October. This is a day I hate to miss with trams running up and down the track, vintage buses trundling along to New Brighton and displays of cars, trucks and more buses. The excitement is palpable as soon as you arrive in Birkenhead and all of this is organised and run by volunteers, their enthusiasm spilling over to all they encounter while working as drivers, conductors, information givers, stall holders and stewards.

Trevor was one of the MTPS volunteers that I really bonded with and when I attended any event when Tramcar 245 was in the Taylor Street museum he was always there with cups of tea and a lovely smile, always ready for a chat. When one year 245 was moved up to the Pumping Station on static display I said jokingly "Oh no, what will I do for my cups of tea?" I needn’t have worried because first thing in the morning, jumping off a tram right outside was Trevor with a mug, flask of tea and packet of biscuits for me. Trevor very sadly is no longer with us but his enthusiasm for trams and transport in general was so typical of all the volunteers and he will always be remembered with great affection.

Sadly this year’s event, due to be held on 4October 2020, has had to be cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic  - it takes six months to plan and involves people and vehicles from far and wide. Here’s hoping for next year.

Our proud volunteers

The decision to join a group usually comes from a shared interest, a wish to develop skills, offer advice and it almost always progresses to friendship and a sense of belonging. The benefits of working in a group or as a volunteer cannot be underestimated and when asked about the project afterwards the MTPS volunteers said that it had been a really positive experience for them. They felt huge pride in restoring Tramcar 245 and seeing it full of excited passengers. Here are some of their comments:

“I have an interest in local history and transport. It was an ideal way for me to get involved in both pursuits and also learn some new skills in restoration.”

“It was a very uplifting experience.”

“Fabulous teamwork from all the volunteers”

“A good way to spend your retirement”

“To have the chance to bring a local tramcar back to life was very important.”

It is certainly good to know the volunteers got as much out of the project to restore Tramcar 245 as NML did and I will leave the last word to Trevor:

“After all the hard and sometimes dirty work done, to see it all come together, the new chrome, the seats looking new, the floor and windows perfect. All jobs done properly. And the outside paint job better than when it was built – MAGIC.”

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