THE East Lancashire Railway (ELR) has been recognised after winning a prestigious award.

ELR beat competition from all over the UK to take home the Heritage Railway Association Award for External Communications for its efforts in transforming its branding and digital presence last year.

The digital overhaul that was carried out last year saw a new "mobile-optimised website and a marketing strategy that positions the railway as an unmissable day out, with something for everyone".

The success of the marketing campaign in the second half of 2021 has contributed to record-breaking sales for ELR, with the heritage railway more than doubling the number of users on its site and enjoying visits from more than half a million new users in six months.

The Heritage Railway Association Annual Awards shine a spotlight onto achievements from all parts of the sector with categories recognising everything from locomotive restoration to the contribution of young volunteers and successful communications projects.

East Lancashire Railway chairman, Mike Kelly, said: “We are delighted and proud to receive this award. It’s the cherry on the cake after seeing the success of our digital efforts in bringing more people in to enjoy our fantastic heritage railway in the second half of last year.

“We went through a very challenging time during the pandemic but while our doors were closed our incredible team of dedicated staff and volunteers, and our valued agency partners Democracy, got to work on ensuring the railway was fit for the future, ready to make an impact with our enthusiasts and regular visitors, as well as attract new audiences - vital to the railway’s survival once the doors opened again.

“By transforming the digital presence of the ELR, we have provided the perfect hybrid between the most joyful nostalgic elements of riding on the railway’s steam trains with the fast, slick and modern experience expected by today’s consumers.

‘We are looking forward to a bright future, with thousands of new customers enjoying many unmissable days out in 2022 at our award-winning railway.”

Policy and communications manager at the Heritage Railway Association, Mark Pearce, said: “Encouraging more visitors from a variety of backgrounds is key to the success of heritage railways, and that’s why we focus so strongly on marketing and communications work at the Heritage Railway Association Annual Awards.

“The judges were really impressed by the digital work being done at the East Lancashire Railway.

"It’s really easy to be focussed on the aesthetic side of marketing work, but the East Lancs were able to demonstrate tangible results from their new marketing strategy and upgraded website.

"It’s very clear that they successfully reached new audiences and turned that into passengers on trains.”

Meanwhile, the half term and bank holiday season are a great time to explore the hidden gems along the ELR.

From quaint bars to quirky sculpture trails, the heritage railway will provide a unique way to explore the best spots in the Irwell Valley.

Jersey Girls Ice Cream - Burrs Country Park Located next to Burrs Country Park and a short walk from Burrs Country Park station, the parlour produces stunning artisan ice cream from their very own herd of Jersey cattle.

Bury Times:

Open Tuesday - Sunday 11am - 5pm.

Address - Higher Woodhill Farm, Woodhill Road BL8 1BS.

Closest station: Burrs Country Park, 11-minute walk You can keep up to date with the latest news and events through their Facebook page.

Mr Fitzpatrick's - Rawtenstall Mr Fitzpatrick is the last temperance bar in Britain and is just a short walk from Rawtenstall station. The bar is vegan and gluten free friendly and sells lots of indulgent goodies such as vintage cordials, cakes, desserts and milkshakes.

Bury Times:

Open Monday: 10am – 4pm, Wednesday: 11am – 5pm, Thursday - Friday: 10am – 5pm, Saturday: 10am – 4pm, Sunday: 11am – 3pm.

Address - 5 Bank St, Rawtenstall, Rossendale BB4 6QS.

Closest station: Rawtenstall, five-minute walk Find out more on their website.

Irwell Sculpture Trail - Bury, Ramsbottom and Rawtenstall This trail is the largest sculpture route in the UK and provides a fascinating backdrop to the local landscape. Visitors can get off the train at either Bury Bolton Street station, Ramsbottom station or Rawtenstall station to explore the trail that winds through the Irwell Valley.

Bury Times:

Closest station: Rawtenstall station, starts as you head off the station You can find out more and plan your route on the website.

Northern Whisper Brewing Co. - Ramsbottom & Rawtenstall Northern Whisper Brewing Co. is a true hidden gem with tap rooms in Ramsbottom and Rawtenstall.

Within walking distance to the East Lancashire Railway, the tap rooms aim to push the boundaries of flavour, having a beer in their range to suit every taste.

Bury Times:

Open Wednesday: 12pm - 10pm, Thursday: 2pm - 10pm, Friday - Saturday: 12pm - 12am & Sunday: 12pm - 9pm Ramsbottom address - Northern Whisper Ramsbottom, 2 Market Place, Ramsbottom, Bury, BL0 9HT Closest station: Ramsbottom station.

Peel Tower, Holcombe Hill - Ramsbottom Peel Tower stands 128 feet high on Holcombe Hill overlooking the town of Ramsbottom and has views that span across Manchester, Cheshire and even North Wales.

Located just a half hour away from Ramsbottom station on the East Lancashire Railway, Peel Tower is one of the most impressive sights in the Northwest. The tower was opened in 1852 to commemorate Sir Robert Peel.

Bury Times:

Address - Peel Monument, off Moorbottom Rd, Holcombe, Bury BL8 4NR.

Closest station: Ramsbottom, 32-minute walk.

Hearth of The Ram - Ramsbottom The Hearth of the Ram is only taking a short minute walk across the River Irwell to get to. Sitting on the edge of the countryside, it’s the perfect spot to choose from a range of high-quality food and drink that reinvent classic local flavours.

Bury Times:

Open Sunday - Thursday: 12pm - 11pm & Friday - Saturday 12pm - 1am.

Address - 13 Peel Brow BL0 0AA Ramsbottom, UK.

Closest station: Ramsbottom, three-minute walk.

You can find out more on their website:

The Mouse Trap - Ramsbottom The Mouse Trap Cheese and Wine bar is a quirky and unique bar with cosy seating which serves a range of drinks and delicious food. Situated in the centre of Ramsbottom only a short walk away from the station.

Bury Times:

Open Wednesday: 12–4pm, Thursday - Saturday: 12pm–12am & Sunday: 12–10pm Address - 47 Bolton St, Ramsbottom, Bury BL0 9HU Closest station: Ramsbottom, five-minute walk You can find out more on their website.

Irwell Riverside Walk - Irwell Vale Just around the corner from Irwell Vale station you can embark on a relaxing riverside walk along the banks of the River Irwell with views right down the river, overlooking the valley and the East Lancashire Railway.

Bury Times:

Address - Start Location Postcode BL0 0QQ.

Closest station: Irwell Vale, three-minute walk You can find out more about the route here.

The Chocolate Cafe – Ramsbottom The Chocolate Cafe is just a 5-minute walk from Ramsbottom station and has a range of mouth-watering sweet and savoury treats.

As well as the cafe, you can pay a visit to their chocolate shop with a full range of quality handmade chocolate products with innovative flavours and their mini chocolate factory where you can see the team at work creating their range of award-winning chocolate.

Bury Times:

Open Tuesday - Sunday: 10am - 5pm.

Address - 2 Bolton Street BL0 9HX Ramsbottom, UK Closest station: Ramsbottom, five-minute walk.

Find out more on their website.

With amazing heritage steam trains, picture perfect platforms, 12 miles of stunning scenery and seven different stops for you to hop off and explore, East Lancashire Railway is the perfect way to capture the fascinating spots along the Irwell Valley.