Mervyn Allcock's Commendation video transcript

Mervyn Allcock MBE

STEPHEN SMITH: I now have great pleasure in inviting Professor Warren Manning Pro Vice-Chancellor, Dean of the College of Engineering and Technology, to give the commendation for the conferment of the Honorary Degree of Master of the University to Mervyn Allcock.

PROFESSOR WARREN MANNING: Chancellor, Vice-Chancellor, other guests, our graduands, it gives me great pleasure to be presenting today Mervyn Allcock MBE for the award of Honorary Master of the University.

Mervyn is General Manager of Barrow Hill Roundhouse, the last surviving rail connected roundhouse in the UK. He led the campaign to rescue the site, originally built in 1870, and has been responsible for its remarkable renaissance.

As a child, Mervyn used to cycle regularly from his home in the village of Inkersall to visit Barrow Hill, his local rail railway depot in Chesterfield. In 1989, when Mervyn was in his 20s, he was shocked to read of the proposed closure and demolition of the Roundhouse and was determined to prevent it.

He formed the Barrow Hill Engine Shed Action Group, later to become known as the Barrow Hill Engine Shed Society, with the intention of saving the Roundhouse. After successfully lobbying Chesterfield Borough Council, a preservation order was placed on the building just 48 hours before demolition was due to commence and the building was granted grade 2 listed status in February 1991.

After six years of negotiations to purchase the building from the British Rail Property Board, followed by several more years raising the funds to repair the damage caused by vandalism and dereliction, the Roundhouse reopened its doors in July 1998.

Mervyn became the full-time manager, a role which he continues to this day. The Roundhouse is now a successful museum, an event venue, hosting beer festivals, plays and music concerts, as well as the more traditional steam and diesel galas, and also a thriving commercial railway business with more than 60 people employed by the companies based on the site.

In 2016, the Heritage Lottery Fund awarded the Roundhouse £1.2 million towards the restoration of upgrade of the Roundhouse facilities for a new audience, known as the Moving Forward Project. In 2018, Network Rail invested more than £1 million in the infrastructure of the depot to allow the servicing of the mainline passenger trains during the closure and rebuilding of Derby station over the summer and autumn of 2018.

It has not been an easy journey but Mervyn's perseverance, tenacity, determination and vision to secure the future of this important piece of industrial heritage has led to Barrow Hill becoming one of the most significant locations in the country for the railway heritage movement.

In December 2018, Mervyn's achievements were officially recognised when he received an MBE for services to railway preservation and development.

Chancellor, in recognition of his achievements in reopening and developing Barrow Hill Roundhouse and the national impact of his lifelong passion for railways, we are delighted to award Mervyn Allcock the honorary degree of Master of the University.

MERVYN ALLCOCK: Don't be nervous they said, there aren't too many people here!

Chancellor, Pro Chancellor, Vice-Chancellor, Deputy Lieutenant, Mayor of Derby, honoured guests, ladies and gentlemen and graduands of 2019, I am extremely grateful to have been given this prestigious honour, a lot of how I got here has just been read out but if I may I'd like to give you a little bit more of the story.

In 1977, aged 12, a great friend of mine tempted me into writing down the numbers off the sides of locomotives. I had no idea why we were doing it, but I became hooked and here's a shocking confession, I became a train spotter. I was wondering how to say that. That led to visiting Barrow Hill on many occasions which was on my doorstep and then a diesel depo, on summer evenings and Sundays doing just that. Who would have thought that 40 years later I would become the general manager of Barrow Hill which is now a vibrant, commercial railway depot which funds and supports a fascinating museum, school visits, TV shows which are filmed there, and has hosted Jools Holland concerts. We've even had a Spice Girl perform there. But not only that, it has also enabled me to meet a huge number of fantastic people and work with some awesome institutions like the National Railway Museum. I worked for the Orient Express and travelled the world maintaining railways including recently China. Currently part of the Chesterfield Borough Council team, they were working with a Spanish train builder trying to bring jobs to help the local people and the local economy in Chesterfield and there even at one point in my history, I drove a full-size locomotive on the railway children play in London Waterloo International. It was during its successful staging there.

But more importantly than what it has brought to me, I am extremely proud what Barrow Hill has brought to other people. A large number of people are now employed on the site, an excellent team of fantastic volunteers enjoy their hobby there and it's become an attraction and a place to visit which brings enjoyment to many including, and most importantly, many children over the next generation and in whose hands the safe future of the Roundhouse will ultimately be.

Congratulations to all you people down here and if one piece of advice I'd like to pass on is if you have a passion for something and have a dream in which you believe, then pursue it and never never give up. I was told very early on in my attempts to save the Roundhouse, I was 22 years old, by a group of then senior railway people, and I quote "Young man you're wasting our time and your own time". And I’m very pleased to say that history proved them wrong.

Finally I would like to thank everyone who has helped me during the 30-year journey of saving the Roundhouse, particularly my partner Alexa, my parents who I've conned into working in the kitchen even though they are 78, and all my family for their help and their support. Congratulations to everyone here and thank you again for this honour.

Mervyn Allcock's Commendation video

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