Bob Pennyfather, Crew Team Manager at Crich Tramway Village
How did you first get involved with the Tramway Village?
I first heard about it from a friend I went walking with when I moved up here from London over 35 years ago. He suggested I might want to get involved as he knew I had an interest in buses and trains.
Do you have a personal favourite among the trams?
The Glasgow Coronation Tram, because although it’s not necessarily the most modern tram, it is the most advanced for its time. It’s also my wife Rebecca’s favourite as the Art Deco interior wood furnishings and lead light shades are beautiful. We were lucky enough to have our wedding at the Village with a tram ride followed by a wedding breakfast here.
Tell us a bit about your duties as a volunteer.
I wear many different hats here: driver, inspector, trainer, crew team manager (the latter is what I do day-to-day in London, where I work for a large bus company). Many volunteers choose to put a little of their ‘day jobs’ into their volunteering – we have several who are employed on the Nottingham modern tramway, while others prefer to keep their hobby completely separate from their work.
What are some of the more challenging aspects of running a visitor attraction?
We have to comply with many HSE and catering regulations. The Tramway Village is a really varied enterprise where we try to give the best experience possible to the widest of age ranges. For example, we have fitted out a tram from the former East Germany with disabled access so that it can accommodate up to four wheelchair passengers.
It sounds like quite a lot of work...
That’s just for starters! We have the main building, a tramway office, the café and a pub. All these facilities need to comply with catering and licensing regulations. There’s an emphasis on keeping a local feel, with the facades of the buildings having been moved from the nearby towns of Derby, Stoke and Burnley before being reassembled here. When the Village closes for winter, we undertake maintenance to our mile or so of track and its accompanying infrastructure.
Driving the trams must be fun. Does it take a lot of training?
Before driving, volunteers start off as inspectors, taking the money and issuing and checking tickets. Only when they’ve done this can they graduate to driving, having taken the test to achieve the relevant licence. Different trams require different licences – some have hydraulic brakes and others air brakes, and there are many other subtle technical differences based on age and region. Often volunteers will take all the driver training, then realise they want to go back to being a conductor because they miss meeting and dealing with the public.
What attracts your younger audience?
Riding and using the trams themselves remains the favourite part of the experience for kids. The Tramway Village has always been about using working trams rather than just seeing them in a static museum. The volunteers, staff and management board have always considered this as core to what we do – hence much of their time and energy is invested in keeping the trams in good working order. The woodland walk is also a big favourite for families and visitors with dogs. The attraction is being able to see beautiful views, enjoy the maze and original wood carvings and sometimes see it illuminated on special occasions such as Halloween.
Tell us your favourite visitor stories.
A deputation came from the Tatra tram factory in the Czech Republic to present the Tramway Village with a tram and help us commission it. They visited just before the events of the Prague Spring unfolded, so it was touch and go whether the Communist authorities would allow them to return home to their families! We’ve made good friends travelling as visitors ourselves to other cities like Lisbon, Porto and Berlin and sharing our passion for trams with others. There’s also a vibrant relationship between the community behind our Tramway Village and the modern-day tram networks in Sheffield, Nottingham and further afield.
Where does the Tramway Village’s funding come from?
There’s some lottery funding and some from private donations, but with the cost of restoring a tram running at up to half a million pounds and the salaries of full-time engineers and other employees to pay, funding from all avenues is important. Some of our best self-funding money-spinners include the 1940s and seaside events we run, and classic-car rallies. The latter are popular because the car owners get to show off their vehicles on a proper street rather than in a field. We are always on the lookout for fresh ideas and volunteers to breathe new vigour into the project.
Restoring a tram is a fairly niche business! Does it have to be done off-site?
No, most of the restoration and maintenance work is undertaken here by our full-time engineers and volunteers in the fully equipped depots that we’ve gradually built up for the purpose. There’s also the added complication of trying to keep the restorations as authentic and historically accurate as possible while complying with modern HSE regulations.
What’s your vision for the future of the attraction?
It’s 60 years since the first set of volunteers gathered together to find a home for a collection of mainly horse-drawn trams. So, I’m looking forward to the 60th anniversary celebrations this year – and to training many more volunteers so that it can be handed on in good order to the next generation.