Ashington still feeling the effects of coal mine closures 40 years after Miner's Strike

Woodhorn Colliery
Woodhorn Colliery in Ashington -Credit:Historic England

Ashington remains stuck following the closure of the coal mines, according to local councillors.

A report by academics at Sheffield Hallam University found that many former coalfield communities, such as Ashington, still face a shortage of quality jobs four decades after the Miner's Strike of 1984. The State of the Coalfields 2024 report revealed that the rate of job growth in the former coalfields has been far slower than in the main regional cities.

Northumberland was listed as one of the worst affected areas, with the number of jobs rising only three per cent between 2012 and 2022. Councillors in Ashington say there has been too little change in the town in those 40 years, and that young people now face little option but to leave the town in search of work and better opportunities.

Caroline Ball was born and raised in the town and is the Labour councillor for the Ashington Central ward.

She said: "We're still in the same place. We've been promised investment over the years and nothing seems to ever happen.

"Young people have to leave - people who go off to university just don't come back because the jobs aren't here. It is having a massive impact.

"We do have some great employers here, but we don't have that key anchor like the mines used to be. We've not only lost the mines, but the big factories and the manufacturing has gone too.

"Financially, people are struggling. They need hope. Britishvolt looked positive, but now I worry that we're going to train people up to do those jobs and they're going to leave."

The Coalfields report, which followed similar documents in 2014 and 2019, supports this idea - it found many coalfield residents are now having to commute to neighbouring towns and cities, with many of the young and better qualified having to move away from the communities in which they grew up to seek better opportunities elsewhere.

The report was launched by the Coalfields Regeneration Trust at Westminster last week. Among those presenting the report to MPs was Haydon councillor Brian Gallacher.

Last man out, Woodhorn Colliery, Northumberland, 1981
Last man out, Woodhorn Colliery, Northumberland, 1981 -Credit:Mik Critchlow

He said: "I was down at Westminster for the delivery of the report. It was really well accepted, with a recognition of the deterioration of communities over the years.

"The report is done on a five-year cycle, and things haven't improved. For Ashington and South East Northumberland, we're still struggling - we need investment.

"Opportunities are still very difficult. A lot of ex-miners are drawing their pensions but there is still poverty, it's still desperate times.

"The change I have seen just isn't enough for what we put in for this country. What has changed since the strike? Not a lot.

"There are still high levels of deprivation and three or four generations of families that haven't got the opportunities to work. There's also the brain drain - young people have got no other option but to leave and go to the cities."

What should be done to restore the fortunes of ex-mining areas? Hear more from the authors of the report on The Northern Agenda podcast:

Despite the difficulties, there is growing cause for optimism. Coun Gallacher pointed out that the new Northumberland Line would help young people in the town access jobs in Newcastle and Sunderland.

He added: "If somebody in Ashington wanted to work in Newcastle or Sunderland, it was very difficult for them to get there before the Northumberland Line."

Furthermore, the Conservative-led administration at Northumberland County Council recently unveiled the Hirst Masterplan, which will look at regenerating the Hirst estate in Ashington over the coming years. The town was also successful in bidding for levelling up funding, with £30 million set to be spent on various projects in the town centre.

There has been some debate over how this money should be spent, with Ashington councillors calling for more of a say in what projects are brought forward. However, the investment has been broadly welcomed.

Coun Lynne Grimshaw, who represents the Bothal ward, was hopeful that the town was on the up.

She said: "Since the mines closed it has been very difficult for people to get quality jobs. All the industry has gone and the industries associated with have gone, as well as the knock-on effect on the high streets.

"We have lost a lot of good, experienced workers. I know we're hoping to get regenerated now, but it has taken so long.

"I'm hoping there's a bright future with all of the industries who want to come to this area. There's building going on, people have a bit more disposable income.

Ashington town centre and main shopping area
Ashington town centre and main shopping area -Credit:Newcastle Chronicle

"Young people find a lot of jobs in different parts of the country. We need to keep these people in Ashington - they are our future.

"We can't lose another generation of young people. There's some very, very highly intelligent kids out there and they are the future.

"They are more than capable if the opportunities are there. Hopefully, Ashington can thrive once more and be a vibrant, busy town."