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Mike Roberts

Chaplain to the North West

Railway Mission Chaplains: Supporting Rail Staff on Life's Journey

In the first of a new blog series, we shine the spotlight on members of our dedicated chaplaincy team and their invaluable work supporting rail staff on life's journey. Members of the team will share their motivations, daily responsibilities and the impact of their work across the rail industry.

Next to feature in our series is Mike Roberts.

Mike’s area of responsibility covers North West England.

What inspired you to become a railway chaplain?

I’d moved to the North West when I married Rebecca and was pushing doors to see what might be the right thing for me next. I must admit I applied without fully appreciating what the role was, but it seemed a great fit for me.

How do you spend a typical day in the role?

Whenever I’m asked this I laugh and say I’ll let you know when I have a typical day. It’s rarely just one thing: stations, offices, trains, depots – just being wherever there are people. If there are people and a teapot, there’s a good chance you’ll find me there.

What do you find most fulfilling about your role as a chaplain in the railway industry, and what motivates you to continue your work with the Railway Mission?


Across the industry, people are describing this as the most challenging time that the railway has faced in recent memory. Everything from pandemic recovery to government uncertainty and industrial relations means people are feeling less confident about the future. It’s about people knowing there’s something there to support them and walk with them, whatever tomorrow brings. 

How do you tailor your chaplaincy work to the specific needs and challenges faced by railway employees?

Chaplaincy is all about walking with people. Some of these walks are intentional, and supporting people after trauma or tough times, and some seem absolutely accidental. Everything we do is about making sure we are visible, and that staff know we are available and reliable to give the support we offer. Every train operator that we work with wants us to be something slightly different.


It's really important, to me, to create really strong and positive relationships with the key gatekeepers across the region. These are the people that will advocate for other staff about how chaplains can support them, and who will get in touch with us and make sure we know what’s going on. We’re on the railway at the invitation of the industry, and it’s people like this that renew the invitation each and every day.


My challenge is always to work out how to work out how to use your time. All the chaplains have got lots of staff to support and big areas to cover. It seems to me like the support that we offer has never been more needed or requested. Working out how to balance the proactive stuff and the responsive visits can be a real challenge. It’s important to work out what is urgent and what can wait a day or two.

How does your faith play a role in the support you provide and how do you navigate the diversity of beliefs and backgrounds of the railway workers with whom you interact?

I’ve dealt with stuff in the last six years that I couldn’t have imagined when I started. I’ve been with people on some incredibly tough days. I’m very aware I couldn’t do it in my own strength. On the days I feel absolutely empty and incapable, I know that I’m not doing it in my strength.

Can you share a memorable experience from your time as a chaplain?

Every year, in May, we mark the anniversary of the Manchester Arena bombing at Manchester Victoria. We have an act of silence during the day where families, those who were at the Ariana Grande concert and staff from the railway and first responders and then another tribute at 10:31pm – the time that the bomb went off. It’s become one of the most poignant days of my year. You have countless conversations across the day. It’s part of the story of the city, part of the story of the station and of so many whose life were changed on that day in 2017. From the huge numbers who turned up in 2019, through to an event in 2020 stripped back because of the Covid-19 pandemic, every year it’s a really evocative day.

What message or advice would you like to share with railway employees and their families who may be reading this blog post?

Whatever’s happening, and however desperate a situation may feel, there’s always someone there to help. It may be a colleague, a friend or a chaplain, but there’s always someone. And that’s also a challenge to us all – to look out for those around us who might be struggling right now.

Finally, how can people inside and outside the railway industry support the work of Railway Mission and chaplains like you?

The Mission has been a part of the railway family for over 140 years. The railway has changed, but the people still need support as much as ever. For those on the railway we ask that you tell your colleagues about the work we do, and for those who aren’t – please do pray for us and for each person we meet and work with.

Further information can be found on our website www.railwaymission.org

Keep an eye out for the next in our railway chaplain blog post series.