I was both captured and moved by a TV programme last night. It was “The Last Miners” on BBC1. This was a 2 part documentary looking at the last year of the very last deep coal mine in the UK – “Big K” at Kellingley in North Yorkshire.
I know the area well and have cast my eyes towards Big K many times from the M62 on journeys to and from home, especially when I was working in Leeds.
From an industry that employed hundreds of thousands just 30 or 40 years ago deep coal mining in Britain was down to the last 400 or so when Kellingley Colliery closed in December 2015.
In the second programme the show followed four miners in particular, two well in their 50s, one perhaps a little younger and one much younger man. Emotions, both in terms of the personal challenge of losing a job but also from being the very last of a proud industry, were always near the surface. The camaraderie of tough and dangerous work underground was brought home to the viewer. The first episode had one scene covering the relocation of the memorial to those killed underground at Kellingley to a nearby mining museum.
The imperative for the men underground was to keep cutting coal in the last month of the pit’s life in order to pay their own redundancy money.
In many ways the programme captured the challenges of modernisation in all walks of life and industry. The human side of things is always very telling for those caught up in change, as we all are at one time or another, or in one way or another. Although the continuing need for coal, now all imported, to fuel our remaining coal fired power stations for the next 10 years was commented on there seemed to be no malice towards management, local management at the colliery at least. One item of graffiti proclaimed “Scargill was right!”
The good news – of the four they followed three had got new jobs by March 2016, and the fourth had started working for himself as a handyman having enjoyed doing some DIY for his son in the first few months after redundancy.
It’s worth seeking out if you missed it – BBC iPlayer will oblige.