‘The Enemy Within’ was the label striking miners were branded with by Margaret Thatcher when they refused to back down in the bitter dispute of 1984-5.
Thatcher ruled the coal mines ‘economically inefficient’ and proposed pit closures throughout the UK, which would compound the mass unemployment prevalent at the time. In the winter of 1984, thousands of miners and their families were preparing to enter the Christmas period with no money, no heating through the bitterly cold months and no prospect of celebrating Christmas.
A nationwide appeal launched inviting pensioners to give up their £10 Christmas bonus, worth around £98 today. Thousands of pounds worth of bonuses were donated to support the cause.
‘A Share of a Pensioner’s Christmas Bonus’ exhibition showing at the People’s History Museum bears witness to the untold stories of what it was like to grow up in the shadow of the strikes, and how acts of kindness from strangers made Christmas possible for the children in the mining communities that winter.
The exhibition is part of a larger collaborative research project conducted by filmmaker and writer Derborah Ballin and artist and filmmaker Esther Johnson. ‘Echoes of Protest’ investigates the legacy of being involved in significant protest movements from a child’s perspective, the role this plays in the politicisation of children and the long-term effect it has on the aftermath of their lives. Although neither Deborah nor Esther were directly affected by the 1984 Miners’ Strikes, their interest is a prime example of this.
“My family were politically active on the left so it was something I was very much aware of.” Deborah said. “My mum was active in the peace movement and I was taken on lots of demonstrations and on protests to places like Greenham Common and Aldermaston as a young teenager. It was a formative experience for me and influenced my emerging political identity.”
“Debbie and I have a shared interest in this area and on researching in the People’s History Museum archives we came across the Hilary Wainwright collection. This contained some incredibly moving material, including letters from pensioner’s donating their Christmas heating bonus to ensure the children of striking miners could celebrate Christmas in 1984. I felt these stories needed telling.” Said Esther.
‘A Share of a Pensioner’s Christmas ‘Bonus’’ exhibition includes original artefacts from the PHM archive and an audio-visual documentary made by Deobrah and Esther, which focuses on the personal memories of Sam, Gayle, Jayne and Craig who were the children of striking miners during Christmas 1984.
Sam’s account reads, “We got presents that were donated. I got a little cheap plastic watch and a coat that my auntie had made, but I didn’t even care ‘cos I was having so much fun.”
“We deliberately set out to find children and their families who had benefited directly from the Christmas Appeals. We wanted to tell the other side of the story of the donation letters found in the archive and to show the real impact these had on people’s lives. Many people had kept the gifts they were given that Christmas,” said Deborah, “We felt that children’s experiences of the strike have seldom been explored. In our interviews we found that living through that experience had irrevocably shaped the lives of our contributors and reliving those memories was still potent for them.”
In times of crisis, the unity and generosity with communities ‘mucking in’ to help each other will be a prominent memory for years to come. The #PorteOuverte hastag used in the aftermath of the Paris attacks, and more recently the #spiritofCumbria hashtag to help families during the flooding are further modern examples of this.
Lee Winters lived in Manchester and was 11 years old during the Christmas of 1984,”We didn’t have a Christmas dinner because our food got donated to the striking miners’ families and that wasn’t unique. My Dad would be robbing the cupboard and my mum would go mad saying ‘we’ve got to feed the kids’ by my dad said ‘my kids are alright, these kids are starving’.”
A Share of a Pensioner’s Christmas Bonus exhibition will run until 18th January at the People’s History Museum.
By Lottie Buckley