South Western Railway is breathing new life into its disused buildings.

The rail operator intends to repurpose unused station buildings and rooms across its network.

Coinciding with Community Rail Week - held last week - SWR is promoting the work undertaken by one of its 12 Community Rail Partnerships (CRPs).

The project, based in Bitterne, Southampton, has seen a neglected station space transformed into a lively community hub, facilitating local events and get-togethers.

For 30 years, the derelict ticket office at Bitterne lay unused until the award-winning Hampshire Community Rail Partnership (CRP) stepped in.

The Friends of Bitterne Station, a station adoption group and one of more than 100 on the SWR network, initially used the premises for weekly mosaics art sessions as well as hosting crafting and garden events in spring and summer.

Yet, for the group to make full use of the space, extensive refurbishment was needed.

Hampshire CRP took a lease on the run-down building, and with the aid of a £40,000 investment from SWR’s Customers and Communities Improvement Fund (CCIF) in 2023, renovation works began.

Work commenced in January, unearthing 1920s and '30s Southern Railway features, including original red clay flooring, windows, paintwork, and a fireplace.

The discovery prompted funding from the Railway Heritage Trust, ensuring the preservation of these historical elements.

The restoration works, including reopening and restoring the original windows, painting throughout the building, rehanging doors, refurbishing toilet ceramics, and replacing lighting, is set to conclude later this month.

Paula Aldridge, South Western Railway’s community rail manager, said: "Community Rail Week is a welcome opportunity to demonstrate what our amazing Community Rail Partnerships have achieved and show just what a massive difference they can make to the stations on our network."

Mark Miller, Hampshire Community Rail Partnership’s director, said: "Together with Hampshire Community Rail Partnership’s own funding and contributions from the Railway Heritage Trust, along with fantastic input from the Bitterne Station Adoption Group, we have managed to develop an amazing partnership approach to bringing this property back into everyday use for the community."

Tim Hedley-Jones, The Railway Heritage Trust’s executive director, also expressed his delight in working with the Hampshire CRP and SWR, providing three grants totalling £37,000 to refurbish and preserve historical features at Bitterne Station.

The trust welcomes proposals for similar restoration projects.