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16 October 2014

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I Was There

By Paula Richards
May 2002, Bridgend
A digital story from Capture Wales

Black gold

Paula Richards portrays her experiences of the Miners' Strike in 1984. She was there, were you?

"My father was lucky today, my big sister was helping him. I was still a twinkle in my parents' eyes.

Black gold helped build the walls of our family.

Around fifteen years later, our family entered a period that would test our very foundations.

I was 11... and for me it was a wonderful time. I wouldn't have to sit at the bus stop any more, wondering whether my father had made it home safe from his shift.

I would have him all to myself. Actually he was mostly out picketing and I was at school doing my own campaign.

But we had some great group outings. A trip to the seaside with free rides at the fair and a cone of chips... and an extra special treat for me.

Even the donated tins hold a special place in my memory because someone, somewhere had thought of us.

It wasn't all great. The very thing that kept us going could get us into trouble... as my father found out.

He fought hard to stop people from returning to work. We all did.

I marched alongside my mother, rallying support and donations from our surrounding community. I was only small but I walked as though I was 6ft tall.

I knew what I was marching for. I marched for what I believed was right. It was a sense of togetherness and a shared belief. It was OK to have nothing, if we all had nothing.

Looking back now I can see we had everything. I guess I've always been trying to recreate that same feeling somewhere, somehow."

What are you currently doing Paula?
I work for a community organisation.

How would you describe your story?
My story is about my childhood as a daughter of a Striking Miner (1984) and while all the negative publicity surrounded the strike, it was an amazing time for me as a 12 year old. I had an incredible sense of belonging, I have a lot of fond memories which has taught me valuable lessons in life. My parents were totally committed to the cause which probably coloured my view. My mother was part of the women's group who helped raise funds and my father was generally at the front line of any picketing.
For me, I loved the feeling of being part of something bigger, meeting people from all over the world, surviving on very little - we used our imaginations more. From this I definitely developed an ingrained sense of community, which has been unmatched since, and I would like to revisit that sense of community. I believe that my story is a good way of portraying this.

What was your experience of making the digital story like in Port Talbot?
It was an intensive time, trying to get to grips with the technology that was introduced to me, but it was also very liberating and tremendous fun.

Your comments

"My Cousins worked down the mines in N. Derbyshire, I was 18 at teh time and used to go picketing with him. I remember the strike for it wrecking our local communities, for it turning families against one another and for the bitterness it created, which if you scratch below the surface is still there. The thing about going back to work, (and my cousin did just before the strike collapsed) was that it was tantamount to saying to all your work colleagues "stuff you I am alright jack" The Miners united could never be defeated, they were defeated because they shipped in Coppers from outside the area to police, well I remember Coppers from London at Orgreave Colliery waving their pay packets at striking miners, men on strike who had nothing left but their integrity. They were defeated because of the breakaway Notts miners and they were defeated because some miners did not stand with their brother miners, took the pieces of silver and crossed picket lines. We used to produce the cheapest deep mined coal in Europe, there are 300yrs worth of coal under Yorkshire alone, we did not look into clean coal technology in the 80's and later and now we have neither capacity to start mining again and we have people dying of cold in their homes because they cannot afford their fuel bills. Maybe if the miners had won things just might have been a little better." Reuben, Sheffield.

"I was eighteen years old when the miners went on strike in 1984. My father went to work one day to perform necessary electrical safety checks. He died underground that day. He was 37 years old. It's hard to imagine that some of the last words he ever heard were probably scab and traitor. Two other men were killed that year when riding to work in a taxi. It's hard to look at things through rosey-coloured glasses when the violence and hatred spilled over like this. " Cheryl Rice Pennsylvania, USA.

"I was 12 in 1984 and remember the strike very well, the main thing that I remember is how a single man for his family went back to work in the Ocean colliery and how the community went against him like a pack of wolves. I understand why the men then went on strike but my father told all the lads back then in 1984 that by 1990 the pits will all be gone, and he was not wrong." C. Morgan - Bettws.

"I was 16 in 1984 and have quite different memories of the time compared to Paula. My overiding memory is the violence and aggression of the time, especially between the police and miners. The other negative memory I have of the times was the hostility of the miners towards any colleagues percieved as "scabs" - I remember coaches being stoned and people spitting at them in the streets.Although I fully appreciate the hardships and desperate times endured by miners and my local community (Sarn/Bryncethin)rallied to support them, my view of the strike and the affect on the Bridgend area is in no way as "rose-tinted" as Paula's." Karen from Bridgend.

"I don't know Paula but would probably know her Dad, as I recognise the medal in the Photo at the head of this story as the one issued by the Garw Valley Lodge following the closure of the Ocean Pit in 1986.I found the story brought back some very powerful memories for me of those times, but of most interest was to see this written from the perspective of someone indirectly affected by those troubled times.The fact that everyone was affected in some way or another was something I had long pushed to a corner of my memory, but the positive recollections of Paula reminded me that a struggle that I was a part of had brought so many good things to the South Wales Valley Communities despite the pit closures that followed.Maybe if this strike had never happened Paula's views on the world would be different, but judging by the words in her story these early experiencies only served to enrich the values and beliefs of a girl in touch with her community, both now in the present, but also one, who was already at twelve years old clearly in touch with the community spirit, shared values, goals and beleifs of past generations. " Ian, Pontypool.

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