It has been a difficult few weeks in my part of Yorkshire as two recent events have provoked intense reactions from many in the community. One was the funeral of Margaret Thatcher that provoked memories and sentiments in the majority of families that were adversely affected by the divisive policies she forced to a conclusion in the mid 1980s and early 1990s. The second was the accident last week on the nearby motorway involving many ladies from local villages that was described as “the worst they had seen in a number of years” by one of the fire and rescue service at the scene. There were other events that did not make the front pages of the national newspapers, or were hardly even noted, that show the strength, resilience and imagination of the people in this area which need to be reported to reveal why these communities will prosper for years to come.
The mining industry in the United Kingdom was an integral part of the Industrial Revolution as coal fuelled the fires that made the steam that powered the machinery. Villages were built around the pits to house the workforce, mainly in rural areas, with their sustainability relying on the amount of coal underground. By the mid 1980s only the large coalfields remained with Yorkshire being one of the main areas supplying coal to power stations. This, with areas in South Wales, Nottinghamshire, the North East, Ayrshire and the Glasgow to Edinburgh area, was a main coal-producing region. There were many towns and villages that existed with the pit as the primary employer and approximately 220,000 workers were employed in mining at this time. By the time the government policy of privatisation was complete there were less than 4,000 jobs in the industry. Employment figures during this period do not reveal the transformations that occurred in these areas as many redundant workers were given incapacity benefits rather than put on the unemployment register. This legacy is one that the current coalition government is trying to overcome.
Deep mining is a dangerous, dirty and physical job with injury and death a constant threat and those that worked at the coalface have a camaraderie found in other groups with similar working conditions, especially the military. They work hard and play hard, are competitive, celebrate dedication, are sceptical of celebrity and are quick to perceive injustice and endeavour to put it right. This is the community I moved into in 1984, just at the start of the miners’ strike, which was the beginning of many changes that would affect the whole region and is still concerning the region nearly thirty years later.
A new book, Grimethorpe Revival, was launched last Friday, written by local author Mel Dyke, that details how these changes affected one village at the time and how others inspired its’ residents with creative and progressive ideas that offered opportunities for their future. At the book launch there were a number of those that had been at the local school at the time and had now achieved national and international recognition in broadcasting, dance, acting, teaching, business… who could look back to this time and appreciate how their experiences had shaped their outlook to life and subsequent career choices. Mel was one of the main instigators of this process and it was a tribute to her that so many people were at the event to celebrate the publication of the book and recognise the influence she had on their lives.
The recent motorway crash has affected numerous families in the local villages, many of the injured were friends and classmates of my own children, and the gratitude and generosity for the rescue services was an immediate reaction to the situation from the community. Six air ambulances were at the scene, the number and severity of the injuries warranted that initial response, and within days the collecting tins were out in the villages and plans for fundraising events for this service were being finalised. The air ambulance provision in this country relies on donations to be able to function, similar to the lifeboat service, and it is typical of the thinking in the community that they would enthusiastically support a cause that has helped their own. The recovery from this sad day will take many years, and many lives may be changed forever, but the community will support each other and do what it takes to make sure everyone achieves the best outcome.
The final part of my thoughts is about one of the families from the area, the Cornwells. Maurice Cornwell was the captain of the local pit cricket team in the 1970s and they achieved great success in winning the Yorkshire Council league during his time in charge. He died recently and the family requested donations to junior cricket rather than flowers at the funeral. As a response to this gesture the club committee organised an evening where team mates and current players could get together with his family to reminisce and celebrate his life. Many people turned up to the event which was a great success, the family had collected over £400 which they presented to the club and some of the club members had scoured the local papers for photographs from this time which they presented to the family. One former England cricketer, who had once been part of Maurice’s team, commented at the evening that only around here does this sort of celebration happen any more. There were many junior cricketers at the event and I hope they learn from the experience and that the consideration and recognition of achievement will continue in the future.
This is a community that appreciates and respects others for what they accomplish, long may it thrive.
Grimethorpe Revival is published by Pen and Sword Books, details can be found at http://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/Grimethorpe-Revival/p/3622/