Miners' strike at 40: Twelve months of action and '40 years of pain' for North East

All of the near 23,000 men of the County Durham and Northumberland coalfields were out on strike at some point between 1984 and 1985. Credit: Keith Pattison

The miners' strike brought 12 months of hardship to the people of the coalfields of County Durham and Northumberland.

But for some communities, the suffering did not end in March 1985.

In Easington, a former pit village in County Durham, ex-miner Stephen Fergus said what followed was "40 years of pain".

The Easington Colliery Welfare trustee and volunteer remembers what life was like before the strike, and recalled how "things changed overnight".

Once bustling businesses shut up shop, people moved out and houses were left empty. These issues, he said, have never been resolved.

"It doesn't matter which political party's in power," he told ITV Tyne Tees. "The east coast of Durham has had no investment whatsoever."

Ex-miner Stephen Fergus gives his perspective on how the strike changed his village forever

Before the strike and the ensuing colliery closures - communities like those in County Durham and Northumberland centred around mining were flourishing.

Paul Swinney, director of policy and research at independent think tank Centre for Cities, said: "Mining was a really key exporting sector for the North East. It's selling something to the rest of the country, to the rest of the world.

"It's bringing money in which puts money in people's pockets so they can go out and spend in the shops and the pubs etc.

"If you take that brick in the wall out then everything collapses around it."

The impact to this day is stark in some of the latest government figures.

Empty businesses and houses are scattered throughout Easington. Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

Impact in figures

The percentage of children living in low income families in Easington, Blackhall and Horden is between 25% and 30%.

Those figures, from the Department for Work and Pensions from 2021 and 2022, compare to the national average of 20%.

According to the 2021 census, the amount of people in full time employment in these former coalfield areas is also much lower than the national average of 34%.

In the three communities that figure is between 26% and 31%.

And there is still a skills shortage in the area. Census figures from 2021 show the number of people aged over 16 with no qualifications is between 26% and 32%.

That is compared to a national average of just 18%.

The communities hit the hardest were those that were totally dependent on the mines.

The impact of the miners' strike is still felt across former pit villages like Easington, Horden and Blackhall. Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

Mr Swinney attributes the North East's struggle over the decades to the underperformance of cities in producing employment opportunities for those living as far out as the coalfields.

"The real issue for the North East economy and the reason why it struggled over the last 30 to 40 years isn't just the closure of industry," he continued.

"That clearly was a blow [but] it was the ability of cities in particular to generate the jobs and more high paid activities as the UK economy moved towards that."

Mr Swinney also credits the failure of the region to bounce back with the nature of the approach to regeneration.

"We've had pits on certain sites and the pit has closed and I think there's been a bit of a mindset that something's been there before, so something must go on that direct site once again," he explained.

This, he said, resulted in building office blocks on former pit sites and out of town developments which replaced one set of low skilled jobs with other low skilled jobs.

The Hub House in Horden offers support to those in the area who need it. Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

There was still "hope" for the North East with current developments and investment in Newcastle and Sunderland which could bring high value jobs.

Hope is also provided by organisations working to help improve communities like Horden.

Among them is the Coalfields Regeneration Trust. Paula Snowdon, regional development manager, is working to combat challenges faced by those who live there.

She told ITV Tyne Tees the loss of industry could still be seen today with "employment challenges, health challenges, skills shortages and [poor] transport links" affecting the region.

"We've now got a lot of teams on the ground who can respond to those challenges and we're moving in the right direction," she added.

The organisation works to create opportunities for coalfield communities, improve health, skills and employment.

At East Durham College, the area's heritage is not forgotten but the focus is on the future.

A prospectus for East Durham College included qualifications which were all geared towards training miners. Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

The college began as a miners' training college, offering the National Certificate in Mining, but it has had to reinvent itself. Now, more than 7,000 students study everything from music to IT.

Carina Tomlinson, vice principle, said: "We are one of the few colleges that offer all 15 subject sector areas, so we have a great breadth of offer in this college because for us it's about social mobility, and not just employment, [but] to go on to university and do things that they may be the first person in their family to do.

"There are a lot of minimum wage jobs around the area but we want our students to aspire to better than that."

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