Coodes’ legal leverage fuels Cornwall’s historic turntable restoration

Tue 18th Jul 2023

For Cornishman Duncan Mitchell, the opportunity to transform part of a large, redundant, brownfield railway site in Cornwall and bring it back to life was simply too good to pass up.

The project to begin restoring an historic turntable for the use of steam locomotives at the site in St Blazey, near St Austell has been in the pipeline for several years and plans got underway when Duncan’s Community Interest Company MPower Kernow secured the site in the summer of 2021.

Named ‘Operation Trevithick’ after Cornwall’s most famous engineer Richard Trevithick, the CIC’s social and community enterprise initiative was established in the same year to provide STEM, or science, technology, engineering, and maths training, to people from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Duncan says it’s a key driver for the project, “We recognise that mainstream education is not for everyone, and we are creating a site here in St Blazey where people can come and learn all kinds of skills, from the basics right up to really specialist skills, while working in a realistic environment. There’s a huge demand for practical engineering and construction skills in Cornwall and we’re helping to plug that gap.”

For Duncan, a marine engineer by trade and social entrepreneur, the project has quite literally been a labour of love and he’s been working on it for years with the help of Mervyn Allcock MBE and a team of around 30 local volunteers, councillors, and specialist engineers.

“Engineering has always been a real life-long passion for me, so to see this site which dates back over 150 years, slowly coming back to life is incredibly exciting. The restoration provides so many benefits to the local community.

“It will attract visitors to Cornwall, it gives people the opportunity to learn those much-needed engineering and construction skills and it’s a real economic benefit for Cornwall by allowing steam trains to come to the county. Without this project, steam locomotives will not be able to come to Cornwall.”

Helen Willett, partner, and Coodes’ head of business and commercial services has been working with MPower’s founder and managing director Duncan for the past two and a half years. Duncan had previously used Coodes over several years and it was a firm he knew and trusted.

“This project is completely unique and there’s nothing like it anywhere else in the country, so taking a commercial lease on a brownfield site from another commercial company was a very complicated process. Helen has been completely committed to the project, she was incredibly efficient and has done a great job.

“One of the most helpful things was that Coodes understood that the CIC didn’t have a bottomless pit of money. What Helen has been able to do is give us the security and the confidence that we needed, with the right legal advice, to get the lease in place that will help us with the funding.”

Helen negotiated a 25-year lease of the site with DB Cargo, the owners of the St Blazey depot and yard to secure the dilapidated Grade II* listed 65ft turntable, main workshop, ancillary railway buildings and land. The old buildings sit on a semi-derelict site originally developed around the needs of Cornwall’s world-famous China clay industry and mineral extraction.

Duncan adds, “Getting the lease has been the key to unlocking this whole project and if we hadn’t had the legal expertise and specialist knowledge that Helen was able to provide, it simply wouldn’t have gotten off the ground. Helen took it from an initial seven-year lease and negotiated a new agreement that worked for everybody.”

The first phase of the turntable restoration is now complete. The Railway Heritage Trust and Historic England have contributed £54,500 and £49,500 respectively, and without the long-term lease negotiated by Coodes, Duncan says they would not have been able to secure this funding. Network Rail and additional industry bodies have provided significant funding and sponsorship in kind.

Duncan says, “Without these key sources of funding, the project wouldn’t happen at all, but we still need more income streams to develop the site further – the next phase of the work is going to cost in the region of £250,000.”

Helen Willett from Coodes says, “It’s been an absolute pleasure to work with Duncan and MPower Kernow on this project and I’m personally very excited about seeing the initiative come to fruition.

“What’s incredibly heartening to see first-hand is the real passion that Duncan has for providing young people from disadvantaged backgrounds with the opportunity to learn entry-level engineering skills, giving routes into long-term technical jobs.”

For more information about the project and MPower Kernow, visit www.mpowerkernow.org.uk

Tue 18th Jul 2023

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