Pit House To Politics – Vanessa Short

Each interview filled me with dread. I was recording the amazing achievements of these women, women who’d welcomed me into their lives, and I’d kept something hidden, something I knew was important to them.”

 

Betty Cooke © Vanessa Short – Betty Cook was part of the Barnsley women against pit closures, one of the first women’s groups. Betty when onto study after the strike and obtain a degree. She has travelled with Anne Scargill all over the world to give talking including Cuba, Russia and parts of Europe.

 

I lived through the miners’ strike of the 1980’s as the child of a Welsh miner living in a Doncaster pit village.

I was young, only four when it broke out, and sheltered from the reality of the effects that would eventually come to communities such as my own. 1984 was a perfect summer; my father was around a lot and the garden was tended to, so food was in abundance. It only really struck me how little money we had when the rental company came to collect the VHS player, later the TV. My birthday went by without a party, and the present I received has always remained a strong memory: a Sindy doll outfit, without accessories. It was cheap and made me feel unloved; I was unable to comprehend how tight money was. I remember feeling a sense of having done something wrong to receive such a small gift.

Not long after this the family broke down; my sister and I moved away with my mother to Salford, where she had grown up. My father returned to work 4 days before the strike ended. Now living outside of the mining community I didn’t witness the divide between those that returned to work early, crossing the picket line, and those that remained out. My father felt the need to transfer to a Nottingham colliery a few days after the end of the strike, and two years later relocated to Agecroft pit in Salford. I never understood his reluctance to return to the village to visit the only neighbour and friend that had remained on speaking terms with him after the strike ended.

It was only after watching a television program on the 25th Anniversary of the strike’s beginning that I fully understood what the people involved had gone through, and my interest in documenting their accounts began.

The first stories I recorded were those of the men that crossed the picket line. I wanted to give them a voice; for people to hear their accounts before they were lost. I never spoke to my grandfather about his decision to cross a picket line, and didn’t want this to be the same with my father. I wanted to hear what it took for these men to cross their picket lines knowing the consequences it could have on themselves and their family’s lives; and the effects this had thirty years on. It was a hard project to get moving, people’s reluctance to talk was evidence of unhealed scars still left within the communities, but it was also a joy. I spoke to men that had known my grandfather and father as a young man.

This project, Pit House to Politics, looks into women’s involvement in the miners’ strike. The voices they found within themselves; from housewives to the picket lines; to travelling around Europe speaking on the strike and how they continued that fight for social injustice. I hope to use the project to show what anyone, from any walk of life, can achieve through working together in a community. It will be shown during the 100th anniversary of women getting the vote, a fitting time to celebrate women fighting for a cause.

I was dubious of revealing my connection to the strike given the strength of feeling that still exists against those who returned to work. It had been my way in with the first project, but the “sins of the father” and inheriting the name “scab” made me unsure where I stood. I hid it at first, deciding to only reveal my history if I was asked a direct question that meant I’d have to lie. Each interview filled me with dread. I was recording the amazing achievements of these women, women who’d welcomed me into their lives, and I’d kept something hidden, something I knew was important to them. It made me feel uneasy and did not sit well, so I made the decision to come clean. I called, or messaged, the women and told them of my connection. In the end I was warmed by their acceptance, and grateful that they remained part of the project.

As my journey recording the actions of the women of the strike nears its end I feel inspired by their courageous acts. A longing to be part of the community, to give back and to help those around me where I can. But most of all it has made me feel even in darkness there is always hope.

My childhood memories fuel my interest in this strike. It’s a connection to what could have been but never was: a life growing up within a small community. Talking to the people of the strike takes me back to cold winter mornings eating breakfast with my feet on the hearth with the fire door open to warm up, cooking crumpets on a bent coat-hanger, and watching my nan light her own fire every morning during family visits to North Wales. There’ll come a time I’ll want to move on and record other events, but I have so many stories that I want to hear from the miners’ strike, and each project opens my eyes more. Guess I’m in this for the long haul!

 

 

Jean Nash ©Vanessa Short – Jean Nash, now in her 80’s helped set up a local support group in Hemworth, Yorkshire and even managed to get the local conservative club to write a cheque for £50!

 

Joyce Shepard ©Vanessa Short – Joyce Shepard lived in Thorn, an old colliery village but was part of Aston Colliery group where her husband then worked. Joyce started in the soup kitchens but found her eyes opened after joining her first picket line in Nottingham, Calverton colliery.

 

Agnes Currie © Vanessa Short – Agnes Currie from Armthorpe women against pit closures described herself and a clockwork doll before the strike but soon found her voice and her herself arrested many times during the year long fight. She posed for the photo in her old striking jacket where she’d collected and swopped may badged from the many picket lines.

 

 

 

For more info on ‘Pit House To Politics’ or to get involved with the project get in touch with Vanessa here or follow her work via instagram.com/salfordthing

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