Blackpool Tramtown’s future depends on £1.6m appeal

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The clock is ticking on £1.6m plans to restore the roof at Blackpool’s heritage tram depot – with volunteers estimating they have just two years to raise the cash.

 

But enthusiasts, who have already launched the Tramtown museum at the site on Hopton Road, are determined to save this nationally important treasure trove of transport history.

Weekly tours at Tramtown have already proved a sell-out, prompting the launch of two tours a week in January with plans to ramp up visitor numbers by the summer with tours five days a week.

Revenue will go towards a £100,000 fundraising target with further bids set to be submitted to funding sources including the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Levelling Up Fund for the bulk of the cash needed.

Heritage trams on display at Tramtown

Heritage trams on display at Tramtown

There are 70 vintage trams housed on the site, of which 32 are operational with the rest in various states of repair.

Some will never run again – including favourites such as The Rocket whose rear-door access means passengers must board from the track, something rail regulators will not allow.

But volunteers have been astonished by the level of interest in the trams, with groups from as far as Spain and France, and from across the UK having already taken tours.

Coun Paul Galley, chairman of Blackpool Transport, who is spearheading the museum project, warned: “The clock is ticking on the roof of the depot as we only have a couple of years before it is condemned.”
The illuminated Rocket Tram on display

The illuminated Rocket Tram on display

That’s what has given the impetus to get tours up and running now to raise money and prove there is demand for a tram museum.

Coun Galley said: “The problem is we have got an old depot with a roof that’s got lots of holes in it.

“The solution is we’ve got lots of people with an interest in the trams of Blackpool.

“We wanted to mobilise all that interest and support into creating a visitor attraction which will ultimately allow us to raise the money to restore the roof and make sure we have still got these trams in another 100 years.

The depot is in desperate need of repair

The depot is in desperate need of repair

“Every tour we have offered has sold out and people have come from all over the world to visit the site.

“Most pleasing is we have had a lot of people who aren’t tram enthusiasts but love the trams of Blackpool, and they want to come and see their own particular favourites and where they live.

“That has given us the confidence to invest in the site and leave this great legacy, because we know the interest is out there and it will be a sustainable attraction.”

The dedicated volunteers include people retired from careers in engineering or the rail industry, who are lovingly restoring the vintage vehicles.

One of the trams awaiting restoration

One of the trams awaiting restoration

Tasks range from the rebuilding of an entire metal undercarriage to meticulously hand painting outer panels.

In the workshop, tools are still used which are almost 100 years old.

Meanwhile one volunteer shares her dream of converting a disused tram into a visitor cafe.

Although a fledgling museum, there is already a visitor shop, plans for a garden, and the potential to link the attraction with the town centre Showtown Museum when it opens in 2023.

Volunteer Brandon Howarth, 17, from Bispham, who looks after the shop, said: “I was only about four years old when the need to protect the heritage fleet became known.

“At that age it was the Illuminated trams which caught my attention, especially the Western Tram.

“It’s great to see so many visitors on the tours of the museum including from abroad, and hopefully we can continue to develop the project and protect the trams for the future.”

Exhibits include the famous boat trams (so popular that two operate as tourist attractions in San Francisco), while Blackpool is one of only two or three places in the world including Hong Kong to operate double decker trams.

The famous Illuminated trams are funded by Blackpool Transport rather than from the council’s £2m annual Lights budget.

Sadly a handful can only be seen in the depot – such as the Rocket, and the Hovertram, built in the 1960s and which was sponsored by Shell in its heyday but will now cost at least £250,000 to restore.

But who knows – hopefully this wave of love for Blackpool’s trams will make Tramtown a roaring success, and maybe help get some of these old-timers back on the tracks.