Yesterday morning, Margaret Thatcher died. Her death has been followed by an explosion of polemic, encomium and vitriol, about what happened under her premiership and how it has shaped Britain in the years since she resigned in 1990. Hearing former miners speaking about their lives put me in mind of the strike.
In 1984, I was working as a community artist in Nottinghamshire. With my friend, the photographer Ross Boyd, I had planned a series of summer holiday workshops for children across the rural parts of the county, including several pit villages. The NUM had called a strike in March 1984, but did not have universal support: in particular, the Nottinghamshire miners decided to continue work.
That summer, the quiet villages and towns where we’d planned to get kids involved in photography turned into the nearest I have known – in a fortunately quiet life – to a war zone. Pickets had come from Yorkshire to protest. Police had been drafted in from London and the Midlands to oppose them. The children we worked with were in the still eye of a hurricane, as the world raged around us all. I don’t think most of us really knew what was happening.
We gave the kids £10 Russian cameras and told them they could only take three photos, to help concentrate their imaginations. It was like three wishes: what they photographed really mattered to them. We developed and printed in makeshift portable dark room, spending three days in each village. The pictures were fantastic: most vanished with the kids at the end of the day, but we made an exhibition that toured local libraries, and I hung on to a few prints, including those that are on this page.
I decided to add them here because the media storm now raging as bitterly as it did 30 years ago reminds me of that summer. I thought then, and I think now, that what it looked like to some children mattered. Their perspective was different, but most people’s attention was elsewhere. Where there are titles, they were chosen by the photographer: they are telling.
The youngsters who took these photographs will be in their 40s now. I have no idea how many of them still live in the places they grew up. But if they do, those places have changed beyond recognition. In 1984 none of us had any idea that we were witnessing the end of a way of life.
- For a fuller exploration of what these changes meant for community arts and more widely, see this post: All in this together.