The Bentham Line - A Dementia-Friendly Railway. Two years of taking the message around the North is being celebrated as supportive as well as innovative for those whose disabilities are not outwardly visible.
Leeds-Morecambe CRP vice chairman Rod Tickner looks at the past two years


The Bentham Line and the Leeds-Morecambe Community Rail Partnership (LMCRP) are celebrating a special two-year anniversary.

On January 23, 2019 at Leeds railway station a train was named ‘The Bentham Line – A Dementia-Friendly Railway’ by Peter Wilkinson, Managing Director of Passenger Services, Rail Group, at the Department for Transport (DfT).

The naming of the Class 150 unit was in support of the innovative work undertaken by the Bentham Line’s ‘Dementia and Community Rail’ project team. This particular class of unit was chosen, as it is can cover all of the extensive Northern network. The train acts as a ‘roving ambassador’ for the work of the team over much of northern England. The project is regarded as a prime example of what can be achieved and should be done to support and welcome those with hidden disabilities, their carers and supporters to the railway and to enjoy the benefits of this scenic route and its communities.

Pete Myers, stakeholder manager for Northern, who is very enthusiastic about the community work undertaken on the Bentham Line said: “The Bentham Line is special: it runs through some of the most beautiful countryside that our nation has to offer; the towns and villages are picturesque yet offer plenty to do. It encompasses the coastal scenery of Morecambe, the magnificent cities of Lancaster and Leeds, and the beautiful rural scenery of the Forest of Bowland AONB and the Yorkshire Dales National Park.”

For him the most important aspect of the line is the dementia-friendly approach.

He added: “The Bentham Line’s Community Rail Partnership (LMCRP) has people involved who really know what the ‘C’ stands for in their name. Their work with the communities that they serve is terrific, with links to schools, tourist attractions, councils and interest groups all very strong. However, it is their work with the wider community that I find really inspiring. The Bentham Line is dementia friendly, and they truly mean to live by that statement, working with groups and those living with dementia in the areas that they serve.

“The railway is far more than a means of transport and when things are done well through a CRP we can make a real difference. With the LMCRP’s continuing work, the Bentham Line does just that every day of the week. I, for one, am privileged to be just a small part of what they do.”

Gerald Townson, chairman of the LMCRP, in thanking Northern for their kind and generous ongoing support, said: “It is a pleasure and privilege to support those living with dementia and other hidden disabilities to enjoy life to the fullest extent possible. We are very much looking forward to welcoming more community groups to the line in the future, when circumstances permit. In the meantime we are working on new destination and activity possibilities and we are constantly looking for new ways to help community groups get the most from their railway.”

The unit has been in regular service since the naming ceremony and in the last month has been seen as far away as Nottingham, Lincoln, Scunthorpe, Gainsborough, Doncaster, Huddersfield and Manchester, as well as working on the Bentham Line itself. Travelling between 200 and 600 miles each day the unit has clocked up over a quarter of a million miles over the past two years, equivalent to 10 laps of the Earth, and will have been used by millions of people and seen by many more.

It was the first time that the thoughtful design has been applied to a train based on the ‘forget-me-not’ symbol adopted on the Bentham Line. The symbol is very appropriate, as whilst someone living with dementia may forget, they are certainly not forgotten by others, who assist them and enable them to live as full a life as possible. As well as the colourful and striking external display there are there are informative posters inside and dementia-friendly signage for the priority seating and the toilet.

The concept of the Community Rail and Dementia project started within the communities along the route. Northern have been very receptive to the project and backed it with generous seed-corn funding. The keenness of the team to deliver the project has generated considerable support and enthusiasm within Northern and at the Department for Transport. There have been many enquiries about the project from other train operating companies and community rail partnerships.

This project is also benefitting from the positive support of the Alzheimer’s Society, Alzheimer’s Research UK and the Community Rail Network formerly known as the Association of Community Rail Partnerships), as well as many local groups along the line.

The Bentham Line is the working title for the Leeds-Morecambe Community Rail Partnership (CRP). It was set up in 2006 and has its offices at Bentham Station and works to improve services and develop community links along the railway line.

The route goes from Heysham and Morecambe, on the west coast, via Lancaster and Carnforth through the idyllic Lune and Wenning valleys with Ingleborough as a back drop. It then continues to Skipton and along the Aire valley which includes the more urban area from Keighley to Leeds, thus linking the West Coast mainline at Lancaster with the East Coast mainline at Leeds.

The Leeds to Lancaster & Morecambe line is often referred to as the ‘Little North Western’ is a gem of a line but it is often eclipsed by its more well known neighbour the Settle Carlisle line. Crossing three rivers the Lune, Wenning and Ribble, the line is very picturesque with excellent views to the Dales, Ingleborough and towards the Forest of Bowland AONB.

The Bentham Line Community Rail Partnership has been awarded accreditation by the Department for Transport.

Accreditation is formal recognition by the Department for Transport that the partnership operates to a high standard and that its objectives and activities are supported by the Government. Further, the Government considers the partnership a good representative of the Bentham Line’s communities.

The CRP chairman, Gerald Townson, is also chairman of Friends of Bentham Station which shares the station building at Bentham and secretary of the Lancaster and Skipton Rail User Group (LASRUG).