A 25-year-old from Ashford has won a national award after taking just 12 months to recruit an astonishing 175 volunteers to work on a popular steam railway.
Sarah Tagart joined the Kent & East Sussex Railway in 2013 and has worked as an operations controller, guard and fireman. But it was her remarkable ability to encourage others to help on the picturesque heritage line which saw her honoured on Saturday.
After collecting the Lord Faulkner Young Volunteer Award, she revealed: ‘Lord Faulkner said to me “I wanted you to win and beat all those chaps!” Sarah was passionate in her view ‘A Lesson in my life – people don’t tell me I can’t do something or I’ll go out to prove everyone wrong and do it 100% harder.”
Sarah’s grandfather was a railwayman for British Rail and she followed her parents into volunteering on the Isle of Wight Railway before joining the K&ESR in 2013.
“Volunteering at the railway has made Kent feel like my home” she said. “I moved here from university eight years ago and it has given me a whole second family.”
The line’s chairman, Simon Marsh, said: ‘All of us at the Kent and East Sussex Railway are absolutely delighted that Sarah has been named as the Lord Faulkner Young Volunteer of the Year.
‘It’s the younger people who are our future, and it’s great that Sarah’s contribution has been recognised in this way.
‘Not only is Sarah qualified in a number of operating roles but, even more importantly from our perspective, she also leads the essential work to attract even more of the volunteers that the Railway needs in order to continue to thrive.
‘She proves the fact that you don’t have to be middle aged and male to enjoy being part of what we have to offer.’
There is strong competition for the annual awards, which are organised by the Heritage Railway Association at the ceremony in Birmingham.
The Kent and East Sussex Railway were joint runners-up in two further categories – for the restoration of a unique historic carriage and for innovative use of green diesel to power diesel locomotives.
Mr Marsh said: ‘It’s a proud day for all of us.’
The line runs from Tenterden to Bodiam, through more than 10 miles of beautiful Rother Valley countryside. In normal years, it attracts more than 80,000 visitors, with most TripAdvisor reviewers awarding it five stars.
The railway offers a huge range of volunteering opportunities for people of all ages, abilities and interests. These include operating and maintaining the fleet of locomotives and carriages, looking after the track, tending the pretty station gardens, manning the crossings, issuing tickets and ensuring passengers have a memorable visit.
Commercial Manager André Freeman said: ‘There really is something for almost everyone. Volunteering is a splendid way of being involved in a magnificent part of our heritage and making new friends at the same time.’