Fears for the future of model railways as Warley National Model Railway Exhibition closes ‘for the forseeable future’

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The cancellation of the long-running event, alongside the closure of a major modelling retailer, has been blamed on a lack of young people taking up the hobby.

Organisers of the annual Warley National Model Railway Exhibition at Birmingham’s National Exhibition Centre (NEC) said last week that the event has been suspended “for the foreseeable future”.

The event has taken place for more than 30 years.

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It came in the same week that Hattons Model Railways, one of UK’s biggest online retailers for the hobby, announced plans to close.

There have been claims that young people are being priced out of model railways, with rising prices attributed to a lack of competition among manufacturers and the increasing cost of materials and shipping.

Announcing the suspension on Thursday, exhibition manager Nigel Smith of organisers Warley Model Railway Club (WMRC) said: “This will be disappointing to many people, including visitors and exhibitors alike.

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“However, we are an ageing membership and we have to be realistic about what we can deliver in the future.

“Many of our existing team have been involved for over 30 years and would like to retire gracefully.”

WMRC member and former editor of magazine Railway Modeller Steve Flint said: “The hobby is alive and well at grassroots level, but the commercial boom period of recent decades has probably run its course, having been slowed by the effects of the pandemic, the cost-of-living crisis and the ever-increasing age of enthusiasts.

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“The tick of the demographic time bomb is getting more prominent, as the next generation of younger enthusiasts required to take over the staffing and running of such prestigious events does not seem to be materialising.

“Hence, it is time for Warley Model Railway Club to step aside with pride, having had the privilege of promoting this great creative hobby to the nation at the NEC for over 30 years with the full support of hundreds of volunteer enthusiasts, manufacturers and retail traders.”

Hattons Model Railways said that the decision to close was made with “immense sadness” and was caused by “declining customer numbers, changing customer demographics and supply chain disruption”.

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It added: “Over the decades, we’ve been privileged to serve enthusiasts and share our passion for model railways with hundreds of thousands of customers.” No closing date has been set.


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