Rail passengers, residents and shoppers in Ashford can now enjoy an even more pleasant journey through the Newtown Road underpass, following this second step in the regeneration of the area being driven by Network Rail, Ashford Borough Council, artist Lionel Stanhope and local secondary school pupils.
The busy underpass, which connects Ashford station’s regional platforms with international services, Newtown Road and nearby retail outlets, now has two striking murals painted on either side of the East Stour River, with new lighting being added in the coming weeks to complete the transformation.
Following a design competition held at the local North School, whose pupils use the underpass every day, the winning designs have been recreated on the wall by renowned artist Lionel Stanhope who has to date completed more than 50 murals on or near stations in Kent and Sussex.
The chosen images celebrate Ashford’s rich history and was designed collaboratively by a group of year nine pupil from the North School.
Anna Lawrence, Headteacher at the North School, said: “This has been an excellent opportunity for The North School students to contribute to the local community and we are grateful to Network Rail for involving us. Developing an understanding of how their studies are linked with local industry, art and enterprise is invaluable and really supports students’ future aspirations.”
Damian Green MP, who kindly unveiled the eye-catching new mural on behalf of Network Rail, said: “This will be an important sign that we are improving the state of Ashford’s infrastructure, including helping people enjoy their journey to work or school more. I want to banish dark and dingy tunnels from Ashford!”
Mark Ellerby, project sponsor for Network Rail, said: “Ashford is going through a huge regeneration with the railway and the town’s international connections right at the heart of its growth. We’re excited to be working with the community, local schools and artist Lionel Stanhope to provide an attractive underpass that improves passenger experience and showcases Ashford as a destination.”
Tracey Butler, Head of Environment and Land Management at Ashford Borough Council said: “It’s pleasing to see this initiative underway, and this artwork really is something special – praise must go to the artists and everyone else involved for making Ashford’s proud history come to life in such a lovely way. This is part of a range of improvements being undertaken to make this important passageway a safer, more attractive place to travel through.”
Following the connections made because of this project, Network Rail and Lionel Stanhope have also carried out further engagement with pupils at the North School, hoping to inspire a new generation of railway engineers and artists. Network Rail have also volunteered staff and equipment to contribute to the regeneration further by carrying out an extensive litter pick in the local area.
The improvements to the underpass complement the council’s plans to encourage cycling and walking throughout the town over the next ten years, as well as responding to calls made by residents in the recent Town Centre Consultation to provide safer outdoor areas for commuting.
The new look underpass will be completed at the end of Summer 2019.