Issuu on Google+

Local identities England • Angleterre • England • Inglaterra • Anglia • Ingiltere

The Dearne Valley The Dearne Valley is within the Borough of Barnsley, 20 km to the north of Sheffield in South Yorkshire. It includes many towns and villages all of which have their own traditions and identities. However these traditions and identities strongly reflect the dominant shared experience of mining.

The Barnsley region had an estimated population of 227,600 in 2010. Although surrounded by towns and cities with significant ethnic diversity, inward migration, with a few exceptions, is a relatively recent experience in the Dearne Valley. Now diverse communities, such as Polish migrant workers, are rooting themselves in the area.

Photo: ©Peter Dewhurst, 1976

Until recently the local communities of the Dearne Valley were highly independent and geographically relatively isolated.

Social, political and economic life tended to be organised around the pits, welfare clubs and miners’ trade unions. Photo: ©jayteacat, Barnsley, 1989

As the mines were located in rural areas, the miners were also often involved in semi-rural activities.

nnPigeon breeding and racing was a

Photo: © Paul Reckless, 2008, Elsecar

popular hobby among miners. Here is a miner of Polish origin who settled in the region some time ago.

%%A National

Union of Mineworkers brass band, 1989.

,,Tug of war contests

between villages still take place.

Photo: © Philippa Willitts, Sheffield

Photo: © Philippa Willitts, Sheffield

Photo: © Philippa Willitts, Sheffield

Photo: © Philippa Willitts, Sheffield

Migrant communities have settled in the towns and cities around the Dearne Valley. They began to arrive about 60 years ago and worked in the steel, engineering and textile industries and in the health service.


Occupational identities England • Angleterre • England • Inglaterra • Anglia • Ingiltere

The Dearne Valley Photo: © UK National Archives. Catalogue Reference: INF 9/887

Nearly a third of the population of the Dearne Valley worked in the mines at one time. This sector and its trade union organisations dominated daily, social, economic and political life for over 70 years.

Miners have a strong occupational identity based on the collective nature of their work and the dangers they confront daily. Solidarity is important to them and miners tend to be industrially militant and on the political left.

nnThe Foreman's underground office at Manvers Colliery in the 1930's. Foremen were former miners who enforced work discipline in the pit.

Before 1947, paternalism was very common in the mines. Although often small, the coal companies were responsible for housing, health and safety and recreation in the pit districts. After nationalisation in 1947 the National Coal Board (NCB) became the owner of most miners’ houses and allotments. Although

they managed them ‘in the name of the people’, the NCB continued with many features of paternalism. For example they kept sports clubs going, organised competitions for pit firemen and safety workers, set up occupational schools and mining research centres and generally encouraged occupational identity.

%%A miners’ social

club in the 1980s. Here miners would have a beer, watch a show and socialise with work colleagues and families. Sometimes political and union meetings would be held here.

Photo: ©Paul Reckless

%%A fire-fighting competition between rival pits

Photo: © Bjorn Rantil

in the 1960s.

The mines were privatised during the 1990s. As they closed the community infrastructure around them changed dramatically. Former miners have created websites retracing the histories of the mines where they worked. One of them wrote: ‘These pages contain humour, tragedy and disappointment. But what is left is the pride, the camaraderie and the community spirit of the miners and their families. You can’t put us down, we were miners.’ Photo: © Stuart Harman 2010

Photo: © Maurice Downing

aaSilverwood mine, a

profitable pit demolished in 1995.

Photo: © Andrew Middleton

Call centres have been built on the sites of the old pits. Surrounded by high walls, they belong to national and multinational companies that have relocated to low-wage areas such as South Yorkshire. These centres employ over 7,000 workers in the Dearne Valley. In these centres turnover of staff is high and occupational identity is weak.

%%Local communities are still influenced by the mines. In this job centre, a poster from the miners’ strike is in one corner, while a local pit banner has been pinned to the wall


Communities and diversity England • Angleterre • England • Inglaterra • Anglia • Ingiltere

The Dearne Valley The industries around which the local communities were built have disappeared in South Yorkshire. New precarious low-paid, lowskilled jobs have appeared, for

which employers often seek migrant labour. Most of these new workers work 12 hour shifts, are on fixed term contracts and are paid at national minimum wage levels.

Others have even more precarious work contracts and can be fired on the spot.

Photo: ©Stuart Harman, 2010

nnSome migrant workers have lived in the Dearne Valley for several generations. Many have set up small businesses, such as this trader on Barnsley market.

Photo: ©Andrew Middleton, 2010

The process of integration has been difficult for many of the migrant workers at a time when local unemployment is high. Tensions have sometimes marred relations with local people. Yet although the British National Party has sought to exploit these tensions, their success has been very limited.

Organisations such as the Workers’ Educational Association organise courses for ethnic minority and foreign citizens around the idea of active citizenship and of democratic involvement in the South Yorkshire region. Groups visit the British Parliament, meet their local MPs, practise public speaking and learn how to get their voice heard by the local authorities. Photo: © Russell Wall 2009

,  The flag of St

George flies in several places in the Dearne Valley. It symbolises both patriotism and nationalism and can be intimidating.

nnA group of foreign-born and BME

citizens visiting the British parliament. Photo: ©Stuart Harman, 2011

Lots of government and trade union initiatives have been developed to encourage integration, although the communities are highly heterogeneous. In the Dearne Valley, the GMB trade union organises English courses for Polish workers and their families at the weekend.

Photo: ©Russell Wall

Young people, many of whom left school early, are involved in community education or training initiatives.


Class identities England • Angleterre • England • Inglaterra • Anglia • Ingiltere

The Dearne Valley The miners’ communities of the Dearne Valley have historically been seen by others and identified themselves as working class. This class identity was and continues to be reflected not only voting patterns, but also by a left-wing trade unionism which mobilised during the long strike of 1984-85. The strike radicalised many who had previously been politically inactive. Although the strike was defeated, it was a time of new political awareness.

Photo: ©Peter Davies, 1985

Photo: ©jayteacat, 1984

When the strike began in 1984, mobilisation was rapid. Women were quick to organise themselves and trade unionists globally expressed their solidarity. Photo: ©noitall, 2009

Though the mining trade unions have shrunk over the last two decades, their political purpose and role remains felt in the Dearne. Each pit had its own banner. These banners are now preserved in the local mining museum.

Photo: ©Russell Wall, 2010

Although successive governments in Britain have claimed that the idea of social class is dead, this view is not shared by a majority of people in the Dearne. Many believe that the prejudice they experience in their search for work and the power relations to which they are exposed, are about class. Photo: ©Richard Benson/danum-photos.co.uk, 2009

nnA demonstration in Doncaster, just before the 2009 Copenhagen summit. The

demonstrators called on British representatives to put pressure on the summit to reduce the gas emissions of developed countries by 2020.

New social movements are emerging in the area, although apathy and demoralisation followed the defeat of the miners. Recent demonstrations have taken place around the rights of migrants and asylum seekers, against job cuts in the public sector, and on the environment. Class identity does not appear as the principal motivator for these mobilisations, although much political action still occurs around social class divisions.


Sphere project • England panels