A brief history of coal mining in Britain
The history of coal mining in Britain is very ancient; but it first became popular since the Industrial Revolution of the 19th and 20th centuries; used to power steam engines, heat buildings and generate electricity. Coal Mines have brought employment and have improved the economy and living conditions in many countries; however it’s also a political, social, environmental and health issue. In this article we will concentrate on the area of South Wales, located on the coast of West Britain, having Cardiff as the capital city.
The coalfield area of Wales is also called the Valleys. Even though it’s a large area that is called with the same name, its areas of deprivation change depending on their geographical position.
The coal mining industry was one of the main foundations of the British economy; but during Margaret Thatcher’s term of presidency, the Conservative Party decided to consolidate an economically liberal programme and start producing electricity through more sustainable energy resources; a situation that could only be obtained through the closing of coal mines provoking the Miners’ Strike from the 5th of March 1984 to the 3rd of March of 1985. The strike involved over 150.000 mine workers.
After the strikes and the National Union of Mine workers’ defeat, the much reduced coal industry was privatized in December 1994, with the name of UK Coal. In 1983, Britain had 174 working pits, but by 2009 there were only six. Unemployment and poverty increased in coal mining areas after their closure and by 2003, United Kingdom became a net importer of coal.
Challenges faced by the Valleys due to mine closure
Even though the government and civil society is taking action over the social impact of the closure of mining in South Wales, there is still a difficult situation existing in the Valleys after 30 years.
Photo By Tom Jolliffe, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14444600
Depopulation of young people from the Heads of the Valleys to move to bigger cities for professional reasons and for better life opportunities is one of the challenges faced by the Valleys as it weakens their local economy.
Health and well-being issues are also a clear challenge that the population of the Valleys are facing due to the data shown by the numbers claiming Disability Living Allowance (DLA) for heart disease problems, respiratory illness, mental illness, back pain and arthritis within the coal mining community. These poor health conditions are passing by the new generations because of the poverty and deprivation that still exists today in the valleys. Even though, there has been a job replacement and many attempts to revive the local economy of the Valleys, this population still depends on state welfare support.
Finally, the challenge for a good quality housing is also one of the main strategies in order to tackle poverty and to maintain a population level sufficient to sustain and grow the local economy.
An economic regeneration of the Valleys of South Wales is happening thanks to the contribution of the Welsh development agency and European funding. However, the local community centers and national non-governmental organizations are playing a key role in the improvement of the population's quality of life.
In the Valleys some community groups have sought to address local problems, particularly around youth disillusion and drug abuse; and the health and well-being of elderly. Delivering training for employment and generating job opportunities are key actions that these organizations are providing.
Boys’ and Girls’ Clubs of Wales
Boys’ and Girls’ Clubs of Wales (BGC Wales) is an example of an organization that works for the improvement of young people’s lives in the Valleys.
Young People from the Valleys enjoying their annual cultural Exchange with their new German friends
It was founded in Captain Glynn and David Davies who worked as a welfare officer of the collieries from all across South Wales; trying to fix the main problems of the “collier boys”. Observing the young age of the miners, he developed the idea of creating a space where boys could actually enjoy their childhood during their free time through games and physical activities. Today there are over 170 youth clubs that are members of BGC Wales across Wales.
BGC Wales’ purpose is to support young people from the valleys through their daily accompaniment and various projects. According to the history of the club, the main goal is to engage young people in sports activities.
But it’s not all about sports; they have a window opened for innovation and creativity as their projects change depending on the new needs of youth due to changes of society.
For instance Safer Internet Project consists on delivering workshops to young people about how to use the Internet in a responsible way; the Coding Workshops where young people had to build their own robot are also an example about how BGC is working on innovation and on helping young people to develop new skills, such as technological abilities.
Coding Project; teaching innovation skills by BGC
As the target of people they work with are adolescents; a Well-being Awareness Project also takes place in the clubs with the aim of working with teenagers’ self-esteem, confidence and self-image.
One of the newest works of BGC Wales is called Active Inclusion, and its aim is to prepare and help youth to start work life and to gain professional experience. “Subway to Success” is an initiative taken by Subway UK to provide opportunities for young people aged 16-25 to gain new skills and experiences and subsequently gain supported employment with Subway restaurants. They also support youth in the process of getting a job, for example, training them about how to write a CV.
Rural Vale Project aims to work across rural areas of Wales focusing on opening youth clubs run by volunteers in areas that are often marginalized due to the geography in which they live.
Sport Activities of BGC’s youth clubs; Boxing
To end, BGC Wales’ also wants to promote cultural exchange among the youth of the valleys, so an annual youth exchange to Germany is organized where they have the opportunity to coexist with youth from another country and discover their cultural similarities and differences.
Could other countries' colliery communities learn from this experience?
The case of BGC Wales and their work is a very interesting case study about how to revive the economy and improve the quality of life quality of the new generations of an old mining area.
Many developing countries across the world are facing the challenge about how to avoid all these negative effects on society due to mines’ closure.
Taking China as an example, its energy mix still relies on coal. However, due to the strong pollution and the negative environmental impact of that, the Chinese government is taking responsibility for changing the energy mix by investing in green energy production and minimizing the use of coal by closing the coal mines.
Those areas surrounded by coal mines will suffer an impact in its economy in the near future and support for these local communities will be necessary to help their local economy to keep stable and to people to keep healthy and employed without the necessity of migrating.