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Investigation launched at popular Norfolk tourist attraction

by Staff

But are things going off the rails at the Mid-Norfolk Railway (MNR)?

The charity which runs the service has suffered a string of resignations in recent weeks, among staff and volunteers, amid allegations of bullying and harassment at the organisation.

The trust confirmed it had launched an internal investigation into the claims.

Eastern Daily Press: Dereham station plays host to Mid-Norfolk RailwayDereham station plays host to Mid-Norfolk Railway (Image: Brittany Woodman/ Archant)

 

WHAT HAS HAPPENED?

The trust has had a tough few years.

Diesel prices have soared while the war in Ukraine had an unexpected impact on the railway, by making it increasingly difficult  – and expensive – to get coal for the steam engines.

At the same time, the railway needs expensive maintenance, particularly at Crownthorpe Bridge, where the line crosses the B1135 outside Wymondham.

Amid all these pressures, its revenue has not been keeping pace with soaring costs and some services were reduced.

Last year, it announced a major reorganisation “as a matter of urgency”, with a new business model introduced to address the problems.

This involved bringing in more ‘working members’ to the organisation – particularly those with a background in administration, information technology, marketing and human resources – to develop new revenue streams and grow the business.

Eastern Daily Press: Mid-Norfolk Railway, at Dereham StationMid-Norfolk Railway, at Dereham Station

At the centre of the announcement, last June, was the news that Graham Watts, a new trust council member, would be taking on the railway’s commercial portfolio, with an ambition to introduce new services and increase profits.

Three months later, as part of the reorganisation, the trust announced Mr Watts would be giving up his role as commercial manager to take over as chairman.

 

UPHEAVAL

Progress has not been smooth, however.

This month, it emerged that Mr Watts had actually resigned from the trust.

In fact, he was among four people to quit in recent weeks – one other trustee and two members of staff.

Announcing the news, James Oakley, the new acting chairman, said the trust had been “working through a restructure and changing management process to help get itself fit for the future” and thanked those who were leaving for their contributions.

Eastern Daily Press: Mid-Norfolk RailwayMid-Norfolk Railway (Image: Mid Norfolk Railway)

In a statement, he acknowledged that the reorganisation had not been smooth: “Some parts of this process have been very difficult and, in recent weeks, there have also been a number of high-profile departures.”

 

WHISTLEBLOWER ON THE LINE

Since then, a whistleblower has been in touch with this newspaper, adding some extra context to those departures.

They claim at least one of the resignations was not purely related to the restructuring, but instead came after the individual raised accusations of bullying, harassment and unprofessional behaviour at the organisation.

The individual made their concerns known at the trust and – when they perceived that not enough action was taken – they decided to leave.

Mr Oakley said he was aware of the allegations: “I can confirm that an internal investigation is currently still ongoing and there have been a number of resignations that have coincided with this.”

“As a charity, we rely heavily on our mostly volunteer staff, with the help of a small group of paid employees. We need to fully understand what is alleged to have happened before we can comment further.”

Mr Oakley added: “I can confirm that two trustees – including the former chairman – both voluntary roles – have resigned, and two employees have resigned. The circumstances around the departures are currently subject to internal investigation.”

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