Lochailort children’s charity mounts roadside protest over latest rail works

John and Jan Bryden with fellow protestors at the entrance to Kirsty's Kids charity at Lochailort. Photograph: Johnpaul Peebles, Abrightside Photography. NO F06 KIRSTY'S KIDS PROTEST-2
John and Jan Bryden with fellow protestors at the entrance to Kirsty's Kids charity at Lochailort. Photograph: Johnpaul Peebles, Abrightside Photography. NO F06 KIRSTY'S KIDS PROTEST-2

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Network Rail this week said work was on-going to assess a claim for compensation from a Lochaber charity which has twice suffered extensive damage from devastating floods in the past two years.

The assurance came this week as John and Jan Bryden, founders of the Kirsty’s Kids charity, together with some of their friends, mounted a protest at the entrance to their property at Lochailort.

The demonstration was timed to coincide with the expected start of the latest round of works by Network Rail on the nearby stretch of the West Highland Line.

It was in the summer of 2020 that flooding first destroyed much of the Brydens’ site, including their adjoining home, which is located alongside the A830 trunk road and close to the rail line.

The Brydens, who set up Kirsty’s Kids in memory of their late daughter, could do little more than watch helplessly as thunderstorms unleashed thousands of gallons of water and huge boulders, which swept through their property, destroying a lifetime’s work dedicated to their children’s charity.

The Brydens had put their heart and souls into building the Kirsty’s Kids retreat, which is used by disabled children and their families.

Just 30 feet behind the Brydens’ property, the world famous West Highland Line rail route was also undermined in several places, leaving the track hanging in mid air.

The Brydens contacted their insurers and began costly repairs with the help of volunteers, while Network Rail set about replacing 80m of damaged railway and embankment.

The couple fully co-operated with the Network Rail contractors carrying out the repairs to the line, allowing them access from the A830 across their entranceway to a large compound created on adjacent land.

But last year the charity faced another setback when the contractors returned for further remedial work on the railway after which a mudslide descended onto their land and, again, the charity was forced to close its doors.

Volunteers from across the UK once more trekked north to give up more than 4,000 hours of labour for free, while building materials were also donated free of charge – all with the intention that the charity would benefit once the supposedly agreed invoice for thousands of pounds was settled with Network Rail.

However, the Brydens say they have never seen a penny of that money and are now adamant rail contractors should not be crossing their tarred entranceway.

Asked to comment, a Network Rail spokesperson told us: ‘We are in regular contact with Mr and Mrs Bryden and are committed to resolving this matter.  As a taxpayer-funded body, we have processes we have to follow when assessing this type of complaint and that work is ongoing.’

But Mr Bryden commented: ‘I thought it was very reasonable as the volunteers all had to be accommodated, fed and be able to clean themselves and clothes. And that included the materials. Clearing mud is a messy business. These people all gave up their time for free to benefit the charity.

‘However, I have since been told that as they were volunteers and worked for free, they [Network Rail] wouldn’t be paying up. We are all disgusted and can’t really take much more of this.’

Mr Bryden added: ‘This level of disturbance would see us forced to close our doors when we are due to welcome our next group of children in April. We’d hate to have to cancel those stays because they are so badly needed by families.

Mum of two Sandra Bryson made the trip from Glasgow, to join the Brydens in their protest. She turned to Kirsty’s Kids in desperation and was amazed at the difference it made to her daughters.

She explained: ‘One of my girls was bullied at school, was self harming and totally withdrawn. One week at Kirsty’s Kids made an incredible difference. Jan and John were so kind and really connected with her and her sister. I have come up from Glasgow today to support them as I think the railway is not being fair with them.’

Network Rail confirmed that engineers would be starting £1.8 million worth of work this week on the line at Lochailort.

The four-month programme, from February to June, involves installing a new concrete drainage culvert, next to the existing Allt na Criche bridge that carries the Allt na Criche burn under the railway.

To lift the culvert into place, a 215-tonne crane will be used during a 78-hour period of next month.

Once the culvert is in place, a new embankment 145 metres in length will be built, helping to protect the railway and surrounding land from future flooding events.

Jeremy Spence, Network Rail’s programme manager for the work, said: ‘While the majority of this work is being carried out during the day, we appreciate that some activities may cause inconvenience to local residents and passengers, and every effort is being made to minimise this as much as possible.’