By Barbara Castleton
Forty-five minutes and over a dozen stops separate St. Albans from London in England’s heartland. For commuters, the passage of time and the towns whizzing by are a kind of “dead zone”. Occupied with newspapers, reports, cell phones, Blackberries, and computers, most riders on the First Capital Connect lines give those smaller hubs of humanity little thought.
For Andy West, a participant in Landmark’s Self-Expression and Leadership Program, recognition of the lack of relatedness between the commuters and the communities they passed each day became an opportunity to make a difference. His desire was to close the gap between the two and bring a powerful sense of humanity to the morning’s commute.
The onset of the Christmas season in 2012 proved a source for inspiration, when, working with Home-Start, a St. Alban’s charity that serves families and children in need, Andy and Home-Start Director Sally Patterson gave commuters a chance to make a difference at Christmas for these children.
With the support early December write-ups in local newspapers and an enthusiastic group of volunteer helpers, West’s ‘Alban Play Station’ project and its message of Christmas giving was taken on the rails. As trains passed through St. Albans and Harpenden train stations, commuters were treated to candy and a conversation. They heard the story of Home-Start’s mission and its goal to share Christmas cheer with as many children as possible. Gift tags, personalized for the young recipients, were given to all who promised to return the tag with a brand new toy attached.
And so it came to pass that by the 17th of December, dozens and dozens of formerly uninvolved commuters bought and returned gifts with the appropriate tag. On the 21st, children from the area gathered at the St. Albans station, where Santa, laden with goodies, handed out the welcome gifts to a beaming audience of toddlers to teens. The pre-Christmas festivities didn’t end there, going on to include tasty treats, face painting, and balloon figures of every configuration. Over 120 toys were given out that day, and over £600 was raised.
Andy West set out to reconnect the commuters to their home towns, obtain gifts for children in need, and to bring attention to the good work of Home-Start locally. “We succeeded in all three goals magnificently,” he said, adding, “Many thanks to the First Capital Connect commuters for their generosity.”