Saturday, 7 August, under the auspices of the Shildon Heritage Alliance CIC, Shildon’s Hackworth Park hosted the Little Big Meeting, a day to celebrate the industrial history and achievements of the people of County Durham and, particularly those in Shildon. It was held because the Durham Miners Gala (or the Big Meeting), which takes place in Durham on the second Saturday of July, had to be cancelled due to coronavirus. A terrible weather forecast at the beginning of the week suggested that the event may not go ahead. However, organisers and entertainers held their nerve and put on a show.
The Marras, the friends of the Durham Miners Gala, issued an invitation to communities across the north-east to host their own mini-galas, offering small grants to help enable this. The SHA CIC, whose members and volunteers also overlap with other local heritage organisations including the Eldon Drift Miners Banner Group and Brusselton Incline Group answered the call, submitting an application for a grant, as well as an additional grant application to the Bishop Auckland and Shildon Area Action Partnership to provide a small budget for entertainment to engage younger visitors.
The day began with a blustery banner march to traditional Gala Day march music played by the Durham Miners Association Brass Band. Local men and women paraded the banners of Eldon Drift Colliery and the 1970s banner created by the Shildon Branch of the National Union of Railwaymen. The newest banner in the parade was that of the Women’s Banner Group celebrating the role of women through the ages that have provided strong and essential support in the mining communities of the north. The beautiful banner was made possible by the determination of a group of women volunteers, and organisers of the Little Big Meeting were proud that it should have its first public parade at their event.
As those who have been to the Big Meeting will know, a key traditional part of the Durham Miners Gala since the 1870s are the speeches by trade unionists, activists and politicians. This was also the true of the Little Big Meeting. Speeches were given by Samantha Townsend (Shildon town councillor, County Councillor and Chair of Bishop Auckland Constituency Labour Party), Yvette Williams MBE (Justice for Grenfell Tower), Jane Hackworth-Young (Vice Chair, Friends of the Stockton and Darlington Railway, and great-great-grand-daughter of Timothy Hackworth), Tosh MacDonald (ASLEF trade union) and Alan Mardghum (Durham Miners’ Association).
Following her own speech, Durham County Councillor Samantha Townsend, a SHA CIC volunteer who was also part of the organising committee, spoke of her pride. She said, “It really moved me to see Hackworth Park used to celebrate our history, culture, heritage and community.
“The banner parade was very emotional, just as it can be in the Durham Gala, and I hope that some people who got involved or took photos will consider travelling up to Durham for the next Big Meeting.
“It was an honour to welcome friends and visitors to Shildon, some of whom had travelled from as far afield as Seaham and Hull to celebrate Shildon’s unique place in history”.
Visitors interested in local history were spoilt for choice as lots of local history groups hosted stalls explaining the rail and coal history of the area. Heritage stallholders, such as those running the Durham Mining Museum were pleased to share their stories. Lynn Gibson, of Durham Mining Museum summed it up, saying, “the Durham Mining Museum thoroughly enjoyed the day talking to people who visited the stall about the mining heritage of the area. It was great to see so many kids asking lots of questions about their heritage”.
The event was not just about history and politics. Those who braved the changeable weather were enjoyed hours of entertainment and the rain did not dampen the spirits. Organisers wanted to create an event that had something for all the family, and they were happy to see people of all ages enjoying the different acts that performed. Runaway Samba got the crowds swaying before the Infinity Dance performers showed everyone how to dance properly. Sam Slatcher of Citizen Songwriters performed his original songs, including ones inspired by Shildon and Durham city. Throughout the day Ian the Entertainer worked tirelessly to wow the crowds.
Dave Anderson, Chair of Marras – Friends of the Durham Miners’ Gala, was part of the organising committee who brought the event to Shildon. He reflected, “It was almost as important to do the event as it was that it was a success. I think the wide variety of speakers, performers and exhibitions made up a great event at a time when we are just beginning to move out of the pandemic. It was very much in the spirit of the Big Meeting and a steppingstone to next year’s return in Durham”.
Shildon Heritage Alliance CIC Director Dave Reynolds, lead organiser of the event, gave thanks to all those involved, saying “Special thanks to those that worked tirelessly throughout the day to entertain, engage and inspire our younger visitors.
“The phrase ‘the past we inherit – the future we build’ is most pertinent here. These young people are our future, and to connect them to their roots whilst they played and danced and enjoyed themselves was one of our big hopes for the day and you ensured that we had something for everyone”
Organisation for the Little Big Meeting was a collaboration that also involved the Eldon Drift Miners Banner Group and the Marras – Friends of the Durham Miners’ Gala. The event was made possible by support Shildon Town Council and funding from Marras, the Durham Mining Museum, ASLEF and AAP funding from county councillors Samantha Townsend, Matthew Johnson and Shirley Quinn. Organisers also paid special thanks to Shildon Town Council staff, whose hard work and dedication on the day and during preparations made the event possible.
We also also asked those who enjoyed Saturday’s Little Big Meeting to support The Big Meeting. To find out more or to sign up to Marras – Friends of Durham Miners Gala, visit https://www.friendsofdurhamminersgala.org/marras.