The formation of the Blackpool Heritage Trust to help secure the long-term future of a heritage tram fleet in Blackpool, has been greeted with much celebration from the vast majority of enthusiasts. However, the creation of the new Trust has also raised several questions, both here on British Trams Online and elsewhere. Rather than keep answering the same things over and over again, Andrew Waddington attempts to address the key points in this special extended article.
What is the Blackpool Heritage Trust? – The new Trust has been created to look after the collection of historic tramcars amassed by Blackpool Transport following the Blackpool tramway’s upgrade to light rail standards. This organisation will own the heritage fleet and take responsibility for their permanent preservation in their home town.
Which trams do they own? – The Blackpool Heritage Trust are now the proud custodians of the entire heritage fleet in Blackpool (as listed here – http://www.britishtramsonline.co.uk/blackpoolfleet.html – under the heading of ‘C Fleet’), with the exception of Fleetwood Box 40, Bolton 66 and Jubilee car 761, all of which are on loan from their respective owners. The Trust is not responsible for the new Flexity2 trams or the modified ‘B Fleet’ Balloon cars.
Is the Blackpool Heritage Trust a charity? – Not yet, but it is expected that one of the next developments will be to seek registered charitable status. This will enable the Trust to take advantage of Gift Aid on any donations it receives, and will also make it easier for them to access funding from external organisations such as the Heritage Lottery Fund.
Why do we need a charity to do this, can’t Blackpool Transport look after the old trams? – It is important to realise that the work that has been done to create a museum fleet of historic trams in Blackpool has largely been done by Blackpool Transport’s Bryan Lindop, with the support of former Managing Director Trevor Roberts and other managers. This is fine in the short term, but what happens when Bryan Lindop retires? What if a new manager decided they didn’t want to keep the heritage trams? Establishing the new Trust should ensure that these trams will be safe in Blackpool regardless of factors such as these. It is also intended that the Trust will ultimately supply the financial backing required to maintain and restore the heritage trams in its care, meaning that they would not be directly affected by any budget cuts or drop in profit margins concerning Blackpool Transport or the Council.
What role will Blackpool Transport play with the heritage trams? – BTS will remain the operator of the heritage fleet which will effectively be loaned to the company, much the same as Bolton 66 and Box car 40 have been in the past. Presumably the company will also continue to provide the staff to run and maintain the trams, although the possible use of volunteers at some point in the future is not completely impossible.
Is there going to be a Blackpool tram museum? – One of the ultimate goals of the Trust is to create a new visitor attraction in Blackpool where the heritage trams can be seen and admired by the public when they are not running. Naturally this will be a massive project and could be a long-term ambition, but the intention is certainly there and hopefully it will become a reality before too long. No definite plans have been revealed as to where such a museum would be located as yet and the Trustees will presumably consider the available options before announcing any firm plans.
Will the heritage trams run more often and will their use be more flexible now? – It is far too early to say as the Trust has only just been formed. Hopefully it will be possible to run the heritage fleet more frequently in the future, but funding and staffing of this would need to be addressed first. Let’s not forget the disaster that was the more regular heritage service that operated in 2012 and made a substantial loss!
Will the heritage fleet continue to expand? – This is difficult to answer. With most of the Lancastrian Transport Trust’s preserved trams now back in the fleet, the collection was generally thought to be complete. Certainly most of the preserved Blackpool trams that could be viewed as being at risk would only duplicate what has already been saved, and the priority is to collect a good representative selection of trams rather than to grab everything that exists! Any more trams which become available will probably be judged on their individual merits. It would be nice to expand the fleet as there is not much at present to represent the pre-streamliner era, but most surviving trams of such vintage are safely housed elsewhere. One option could be to borrow other Blackpool trams to fill gaps in the collection, albeit temporarily, as has already happened this year with Pantograph car 167 visiting from the National Tramway Museum.
Will this new Trust affect other tramway preservation groups? – Almost certainly. We now have a new organisation that will naturally be seeking financial support to further its aims in creating a new museum attraction and restoring more trams to operational condition, with no shortage of potential candidates waiting in the wings. Fans of the classic Blackpool trams may well choose to support the trams in their native town rather than those that have been preserved elsewhere, but only time will tell. Ultimately each museum tramway must assess what they can offer that nobody else can, and capitalise on this. The tramways at Beamish and Heaton Park are both part of something greater and should probably be safe, whilst the East Anglia Transport Museum provides a more complete transport museum with trolleybuses, buses, steam vehicles and much more. The national collection at Crich remains unrivalled in terms of the size and variety of its tramcar collection and it is up to those in control to make sure that it has a secure future.
How can I support the new Trust? – For now, the best way to support the Trust is simply to buy a heritage tour pass and ride on the heritage trams when they run! Hopefully other ways to support the Trust and its projects will be offered to interested enthusiasts in the future, but nothing is known yet about what form this could take. Presumably individuals and organisations such as the Fylde Tramway Society will continue to support various projects such as the repainting of trams, and anyone wishing to support a particular vehicle or contribute financially towards the operation of heritage tours is encouraged to contact Bryan Lindop at Blackpool Transport.
Hopefully this article has gone some way to answering some of the questions that have arisen following the Trust’s launch. Inevitably some questions will remain unanswered for now, probably because the Trustees haven’t decided exactly how to deal with some matters themselves yet! However, anyone who loves the traditional Blackpool tram fleet is urged to support this new venture and we should all be extremely grateful that so much effort has been made to create such an organisation, and that so many heritage trams remain in Blackpool for future generations to enjoy.