Case Study: Collaborative Partnership between Leeds University Business School and Middleton Railway Trust

Middleton Railway

Picture © Stephen Garnett

Leeds University Business School has been building long-term partnerships with a wide range of organisations over many years. By providing access to a wide range of opportunities, our collaborative partnerships can help you transform aspects of your organisation, develop new skills, access the right talent and identify opportunities for innovation. Charles Milner is the Chairperson of The Middleton Railway Trust and discusses why a collaborative partnership with Leeds University Business School will significantly benefit them.

Could you give a brief history of Middleton Railway and the significance it has with Leeds?

Working in collaboration with Leeds University Business School helps to complete a circle as lecturers and students from the University saved Middleton Railway from closure in 1960.  In 1812 The Middleton Railway was the first in the world to successfully employ steam locomotives. These were designed and built in Leeds and inspired George Stephenson to build his first locomotive. The locomotive building industry which grew out of this pioneering work helped Leeds become a centre of engineering excellence. The Trust wants to help preserve the ancestry at that tradition of engineering excellence through working with the University Business School because of the expertise it can provide. The University played a critical role in saving the Railway and it is now helping secure its long-term future.

Picture © Charles Milner, Middleton Railway


Picture © Stephen Garnett

How did you come to a collaborative partnership with Leeds University Business School?

I attended a Heritage Railway Association conference where there was a presentation by the Central Tramway Company Scarborough (CTCS) who had developed a partnership with York Business School. They talked about the things that the Business School had helped them with, such as researching what their customers really needed and how to reconfigure their facilities to better match customer expectations. They were very pleased with the results. Because the Middleton Railway had similar needs to the CTCS it seemed sensible to try and develop a similar partnership with Leeds University Business School. This would also have the advantage of building on the historic links between the railway and the University.

Are there any research areas that you think are going to benefit Middleton Railway?

Inspired by advice from the Business School we are creating a new much more customer focussed website with the ability to purchase membership and tickets online. A recent completed project has looked at how we can improve the recruitment and retention of volunteers as they are the lifeblood of the Trust, and so this has provided the railway with the basis of a coherent volunteer recruitment and retention policy. Later projects will help the Trust better showcase its collection of artefacts and local stories to engage the Community in which the Railway operates with its long and distinguished history. Undergraduates and postgraduates are fulfilling these projects through research, analyses and drawing on the skills and expertise of the staff of the Business School. 

Middleton Railway Trust Image


Picture © Stephen Garnett

You could change the face of South Leeds through these projects, how does that feel?

South Leeds and the Middleton Railway have played a vital contribution to the development of the City of Leeds. It is part of the Trust’s ambition to raise awareness of the importance of South Leeds to the development of the City and to contribute to the renewal of the South Leeds Community. This is where the support of the Business School is vital because it brings leading expertise which the Railway would not otherwise be able to access.  It is very much the Trust’s view that the best way to deliver charitable objectives is to be financially self-sufficient and to use grant funding for enhancing our facilities and offering to the City of Leeds by improving the display of our collections.

Would you advise that Leeds-based organisations build a collaborative partnership like this?

I think this kind of collaborative partnership brings in expertise and knowledge as well as different insights and that is always hugely valuable. My advice would be to put together a project plan as early as possible and be prepared to interact with the student teams and support them. The relationship is a partnership and local like all good partnerships which work best if both sides work together from the start.  Part of the benefit of the partnership is that you are creating opportunities for students to learn and grow and that is also very much a plus; it is not a one-way trade.

As a collaborative partner with Leeds University Business school, you could benefit from a number of things such as a dedicated team who will proactively drive additional value to your business with a project-focused commitment to ensure you receive the right outcomes for your organisation. Work with our students, utilise our campus facilities and network with other businesses and our academic faculty and take your business further. Find out more about Collaborative Partnerships.