Tag Archives: miners’ strike


As promised in our last issue, here is an account of a local support project that grew out of the miners’ strike of 1984/85. The project was born (as all good ideas are) out of conversations in the bar at the Gregson Institute. Why not do something practical locally to help the miners, something that would get wide support? Out of this came the idea for a summer camp for miners’ kids. A strange collection of folk became involved: University lecturers, teachers, students, left-wing politicos, and dedicated barflies. Somehow a semi-formal structure and a conscious strategy emerged. The kids would come from Blyth in Northumberland, from where miners were picketing Glasson Dock trying to prevent strike-breaking coal imports. There would be 75 of them (fifteen a week for five weeks in late July and August and we’d need at least £2000 to feed and entertain them. We would take them to Silverdale, where someone knew of a good cheap campsite at Gibraltar Farm. They would get lots of healthy outdoor activities, with the odd evening at Morecambe funfair if funds permitted, and we would supply a good balanced diet to make up for months of paltry rations because of the strike.

There was no shortage of organisers and adult volunteers. Money was more of a problem. We started strongly with large donations from the Students Union at St. Martin’s College and several University JCRs, and built on this base with begging letters to local political parties, the Co-op, trade unions and churches, as well as a very lucrative circular to every member of academic staff at the University. We had an overwhelming response, apart from the Duke of Westminster (the richest man in Britain), who informed us that he did not give to charity. Busking by Paramount Islanders and a concert by the local group Sound Investment raised almost £300. The University Community Action Group helped us contact volunteers and the District Education Office arranged the loan of cagoules, boots, rucksacks and cooking equipment. The University hiking club lent us four large and quite invaluable tents.

On a very sunny Sunday afternoon the first fifteen kids arrived. The campsite was at a particularly beautiful and secluded area only a few hundred yards from the beach. We kept rules to a minimum, making the safety of the kids the paramount reason for having a rule. They took part in activities they had never experienced before – rock climbing, abseiling, canoeing, sailing, pot-holing – and it is to the credit of the volunteers who supervised them that there was not a single accident in the five weeks of the camp. Every day saw a different experience for the kids. One of the most popular was the swimming and water games session held every morning at Carnforth Pool. The pool staff volunteered to come in an hour early so that we could have the pool to ourselves. We found this positive, helpful attitude was widespread. Marineland in Morecambe gave free tickets every week for the dolphin show, Morecambe funfair and Spaceskate in Lancaster gave big reductions for the kids, youth workers at Scotch Quarry organised games, the Georgian Club provided crisps and lemonade whenever the kids visited Lancaster, and when we needed refuge in wet weather and freezer space for food, the sisters at St. John of God Hospice were glad to oblige. The Heysham Dockers donated their tuck shop and members of Morecambe Labour Party provided high tea every week. And there were people who would turn up at the camp with homemade cakes, biscuits and jams, boxes of books and games, sweets and crisps. On one occasion, a group of anglers arrived at the camp with baskets overflowing with freshly-caught flounders. It was fish supper that night.

Each group of children was accompanied by women from the Blyth Womens’ Support Group who perhaps did most to ensure that the kids had a good time (and behaved themselves!). The camp also became a venue for rest and recuperation from picketing duty for miners, some of whom had had a hard time of it at the hands of the police. They too contributed greatly to the success of the camp, and to the political education of the volunteers.

Every week finished with a two-day stay at an old miners’ cottage at Kentmere, in the Lake District, where outdoor pursuits specialists ensured the kids had a busy but enjoyable time. We were very lucky in having exceptionally good weather for most of that summer, so that outdoor activities could be enjoyed to the full. There were the usual problems arising from clashes of temperament and differences of opinion with both adults and kids, but these were rare and were resolved through discussion and compromise. The general atmosphere was relaxed and good humoured. New friends were made and strong bonds of mutual respect and affection were formed between adults and kids alike. Looking back on the experience, it is remarkable, given the backdrop to the strike and the unrelenting hostility of the media, just how generous people were. It gave us all a glimpse of what could be possible.



In the Management School Hub. A young man obviously very thrilled to have been offered a job at Lancaster University. ‘I am so pleased, fantastic, and they told me I don’t have to wear a suit every day to work but under no circumstances must I ever wear jeans to work’. Obviously not a teaching post then.



In subtext 167, we reported on the ill-advised letter from Chris Heaton-Harris MP, sent to large numbers of Vice-Chancellors asking for all educational materials relating to Brexit, and the academics involved in its teaching. We were unsure at the time whether our own Vice-Chancellor had received Mr. Heaton-Harris’s pleasant little missive, and if so, what the response had been. Since then, SCAN has reported (http://tinyurl.com/y74h6dbd) that the VC did receive the request from Mr. Heaton-Harris, that it was considered under FOI procedures, and that the ruling followed the precedent set by Arkell v. Pressdram. It was to be expected, but pleasant to learn all the same.



As one of subtext’s drones was returning from a trip to the balmy South [they get holidays now?? -ed], imagine its surprise when it saw, as it was cruising up the A6 and passing the field immediately north of the current Lancaster University campus, the label ‘Lancaster Science Park’ emblazoned over a large grey rectangle to the right of the road on its sat nav screen. There may be no buildings, paths, lights, or any activity whatsoever on the field between Bailrigg Village and campus as yet, but at least someone is preparing for Lancaster’s bold northward expansion!



Here in the warehouse we are always pleasantly surprised when we learn how widespread and diverse our readership is. Following our story on the overcrowded bus (subtext 168) it cannot be a coincidence that your correspondent witnessed a Stagecoach driver, in the underpass, stood outside of his bus counting the passengers on so not to exceed the legal numbers of standing passengers. The power of the press!



Following our trip down memory lane (see subtext 168) a number of readers have expressed interest in knowing a little more about the Lancaster Social Education Project during the miners strike (1984/85). subtext would like to hear from readers who involved with the project or indeed the children and grandchildren of people who were active during that time and know of any ‘tales from the campsite’.


Readers may recall that during our review of the last Mark Thomas gig at the Dukes we promised you tell more about the University and the Miners’ Strike of 1984/85. The return of Mark Thomas to the Dukes on the 29th November (of which we hope to offer a review) has prompted us to make good on our promise.

The Lancaster Miners Support Group (LMSG) was well established, after a protracted political birth (the Left!), in the early days of the strike in 1984. The only University contribution at that time was through the friendship of a prominent member of the LMSG and a well-placed member of LUSU. Through him every two weeks LUSU clandestinely printed 1000 copies of the fortnightly bulletin that was distributed by LMSG throughout the local area. The actual Lancaster University Miners Support Group (LUMSG) resulted from an initiative by one of the organisers of the Lancaster Social Education Summer Project. This was a heavily camouflaged scheme to provide a summer camp for miners’ children. The organiser arranged with a sympathetic member of the LUSU executive for there to be a miners’ stall at the Societies Bazaar at the start of the academic year in early October. Run by members of the University branches of ASTMS and NALGO, the stall raised a lot of money and aroused enough interest for a campus support group to be set up. LUMSG brought together students, technicians, clerical staff and lecturers. Its main activity was the regular collection of money (and some food) outside the Spar supermarket on campus every Thursday and Friday lunchtime. Initial opposition from university management was overcome after the intervention of a supporter on Council, though there was continuing sporadic harassment by the ‘University Beadle’. The collections were kept up throughout the winter, and established a regular ‘clientele’ of contributors. Two of the group’s members came from Accrington and had already built up connections with Burnley strikers, who worked at Agecroft where they were greatly outnumbered by scabs. The bulk of the money (some £2000 in total) went to Burnley, and about once a month several Burnley miners joined their University supporters in a mass collection in Alexandra Square. At Xmas a Burnley miner’s wife undertook a sponsored swim at the University pool. Her 100 lengths brought in a total of £290, which was spend on record tokens for the children of the Burnley strikers. Donations were also made to Bates Pit, Blyth.

Miners appeared on campus to speak at a number of public meetings organised by LUMSG, which were reasonably well-attended. Also a minibus took supporters from the University to the strike committee rooms at Burnley, where discussions with miners revealed the extent of political awareness gained by many of them during the dispute. After the visit the university party travelled to the picket line at Huncoat power station. Probably hundreds of people put their hands into their pockets at some point during the two academic terms in which the group was active, and no-one there will forget the £50 cheque dropped into our bucket by one female student just before Xmas (‘I had more left over from my grant than I expected’, she explained). Physical support at meetings or on collections, however, never involved more than twenty or so people. Only a handful of academic staff took any active part (although some were involved in LMSG) and most Labour Party and Communist Party members were conspicuous by their absence. Technicians and students were better represented and both ASTMS and the Labour Party levied their members; the technicians raised £250 in his way. On balance it was well worth doing. We promoted the miners’ cause twice a week in a way that could not be ignored, and annoyed the campus Tories enough for one academic’s office door, festooned with miners’ posters, to be spattered with egg yolk one weekend. And for years afterwards there were still envelopes with ‘Coal Not Dole’ stickers circulating in the internal post.