A FRESH row has broken out at West Somerset Railway as a charity which supports the heritage line faces a potential takeover.

Members of the Steam Trust (WSSRT) are “upset” by a group of people planning to become trustees of the charity.

Fourteen nomination forms were delivered to the WSSRT office by West Somerset Railway Association (WSRA) trustee Robin White.

The WSSRT is a charity which supports the railway and prioritises preserving and displaying heritage items, restoring heritage carriages and managing the museums at Bishops Lydeard and Blue Anchor. 

Meanwhile the WSRA is a separate charity which helps fund projects to support the railway including restoring locomotives and relaying track, and organises volunteers who help keep the railway flourishing.

The group which wants to take over as trustees of the WSSRT submitted a series of objectives along with their nomination forms, calling for a merger of the WSRA and WSSRT, with the West Somerset Railway (WSR) PLC as the operating company within that single charity.

But members of the WSSRT were not happy.

“We were surprised to get an application from 14 people originally,” said Chris Austin, chairman of WSSRT.

“No one had mentioned anything before the application and we had no idea it was coming.

“Most members are upset because they enjoy being part of a small charity with people they know.

“As a trustee, I have a duty to act in the best interest of my trust and I will do everything in my power to resolve this so we can get back to focusing on what is important – reopening the railway after the Covid-19 pandemic.”

The WSSRT have deferred their next Annual General Meeting (AGM) until they have taken advice about the situation.

Ms White believes that the takeover of trustees is the best option for both railway charities.

“Our objectives will reinforce the WSSRT’s Charitable Objective,” she said.

“By streamlining the complex structure and bureaucracy of the charities of the WSR, this will increase the fundraising potential for all the stakeholders in the West Somerset Railway.

“This will include those volunteers involved in the WSSRT and its current projects, thus enhancing the railway’s ability to educate and inform the public.

“We provide a categorical assurance that, if we are elected as trustees, we will protect and uphold the activities of the WSSRT, specifically in continuing the excellent work which the WSSRT has done on its heritage carriages, the museums at Bishops Lydeard and Blue Anchor, and with its educational outreach activities.”

In a letter from the WSR PLC, the trustee applications were described as a “hostile takeover campaign”.

The WSR also said in the letter that they will “do everything within [their] power to support the existing WSSRT trustees to repel this attempted and hostile takeover of a small, but widely respected charitable group which has supported the railway immeasurably”.