Miners Strike badges
Caroline: Women Against Pit Closures
Caroline Poland was an active member of Sheffield Women Against Pit Closures. She spoke to us in 2009 about how the strike remains an inspiration for what people can do for the communities they care about.
Caroline Poland of Sheffield WAPC
Caroline Poland was in her 30s at the time of the 1984-5 miners strike. She was living in Sheffield with her one-year-old son and her partner Dave, a miner who worked at Thurcroft and went on strike for the year.
Caroline, Dave and their little boy lived in a shared house so they were protected financially by the other housemates to some extent.
They now live near Meersbrook Park in Sheffield, and their son and daughter have grown up and left home.
How did you come to join Sheffield Women Against Pit Closures?
"I was initially involved with Barnsley Women Against Pit Closures - that was the first one that was set up - and then I became very involved with Sheffield WAPC.
"I'm not from a mining family, but my partner Dave is. It made a difference living with someone who was on strike but I wanted to do something anyway, and the strike wasn't about wages but about communities. It affected a lot of people's lives."
How did it affect your life, having a partner who was a striking miner?
"All the time! [laughs]! Pretty constant really. You were always thinking, how could you get the solidarity you needed to succeed, given that the Thatcher government had planned it very effectively and had lots of coal stocks piled up.
Dave with a photo of his dad - also a miner
"I was working and also we lived in a shared house so there were a few people to support the fact that one person wasn't earning any money, so we were ok.
"There were plenty of other families where no one was in work though, or they were on a very low wage. They were seriously affected. So a lot of time was spent raising money to support those families... getting food parcels together - and that's a lot of what WAPC did as well as the political and campaigning side of it.
"Fundraising, campaigning, food parcels, organising demos and public meetings, supporting women going to speak all over the place - including abroad - and also picketing."
Memorabilia from the 1984-5 Miners Strike
Caroline has a box of Women Against Pit Closures memorabilia - badges, stickers, posters, T-shirts, postcards...
"We produced this calendar in 1985 to sell for fundraising but also to raise the profile of the Miners Strike really. One of the ideas was to show past and present, to show that women had always been active, either working in the pits in some kind of way or supporting their families."
One of the photos in the calendar shows a group of women holding a banner outside Treeton Pit: "This shows some of the women from Thurcroft... that woman's husband worked at Beighton, and this woman actually worked in the pit canteen."
Caroline Poland's fireplace
It must have been quite an experience for a lot of women...
"We supported women's groups in Nottinghamshire - we used to go and pick women up from the villages and we had a lot of fun as well... getting to know people we wouldn't have dreamed of meeting otherwise.
"There were big blockades to stop people going to picket down in Nottingham, so we would get in a minibus and pretend they were going on a single parent conference or potato picking, or whatever story someone fancied making up as we hit the next cordon of police!
"And we'd get through and burst out laughing. So there was a lot of fun and solidarity."
SY Defence Campaign
Caroline also became very involved in the South Yorkshire Defence Campaign. The campaign, with the slogan 'Jobs not Jail,' was set up towards the end of the strike to support and defend all the miners charged with strike-related offences, and in particular serious charges of conspiracy."
Caroline had a renewed involvement with Women Against Pit Closures in 1993 when the government announced that they were closing 31 pits across the country. Caroline and others set up a Women's Pit Camp at Houghton Main to show support and solidarity with the miners. They took it in turns to camp out full time.
SY Defence Campaign: Jobs not Jail
You had a young son - how was he affected?
"He was quite young in the 1984-5 strike but later on, in 1993, there was the announcement of 31 pit closures.
"We set up a Women's Pit Camp outside Houghton Main colliery which is where Dave's brother worked.
"We had a caravan and a constant presence there and a good relationship with the NUM. Basically we were there so the miners and their families would feel less isolated."
Hot air balloon at Houghton Main pit camp, 1993
Caroline describes how the kids liked to get involved with the marches and protests, sitting on the wheels under the big NUM colliery banners and joining in with workshops to make posters, T-shirts and badges. The group at the Pit Camp even had a hot air balloon which was launched from Houghton Main in 1993.
"The hot air balloon went up to support the start of the 24 hour unified ballot on industrial action to save the pits. The balloon trailed a giant banner carrying the message 'Not 31, not 21, not 10, not 1, no pit closures' and it was accompanied by hundreds of small balloons sent up by local schoolchildren. On board the balloon were three local women involved in the pit camp." Later the women at the pit camp had 'tethered' flights for children.
"We had a brazier going at the pit camp full time - all week, night and day, and the miners would make sure there was coal there to keep it going. My son and daughter would come to the caravan and stay with me. They had fun with the other kids, making banners and T-shirts in workshops.
Orgreave, 1984 © John
"My daughter is still very proud of the T-shirt she's still got. She's 21 now and she still wears it! It shows the image of one of the WAPC women [Lesley Boulton] taking photos outside Orgreave and one of the mounted police came with a baton. It's a big press photo of the baton about to hit her on the head. It doesn't sound a very attractive T-shirt does it!?"
You can read more about the famous photo of Lesley Boulton about to be hit on the head by a mounted policeman's baton and you can hear the story in Lesley's own words. Just click on the link below.
Caroline Poland with The Miner newspaper from 1993
What was it like in the final days of the strike?
"People felt very emotional and sad. In the local pits it was very dignified, the return-to-work march with banners held high.
"If we'd managed to defeat Thatcher and her very, very well-laid plans... It would have been amazing to have actually seriously won...
"... but people still look back on that year and the amount of huge solidarity in local communities and across the country - it's something people certainly remember with pride and it won't be forgotten.
"It does remain an inspiration of what you can do."
:: Caroline Poland was speaking to Grace Shaw in February 2009.
Click on the links below to find out more about other local Women Against Pit Closures - Betty Cook, Barbara Jackson, Jackie Keating and Lesley Boulton.
last updated: 25/08/2009 at 12:00
Have Your Say
Were you a member of Women Against Pit Closures? Tell us about your experience of the Miners Strike in 1984-5.