FORMER Labour cabinet minister Tony Benn yesterday kept a pledge he made at last year’s Durham Miners’ Gala to youngsters from a former colliery area.
He turned up at Lingey House Primary School in Leam Lane, Gateshead, to unveil a mining banner created by pupils and staff that will today be paraded at the Gala. They will march in front of the re-made banner of Follonsby Colliery, which was located at Wardley, near the school, and which made its debut at last year’s event.
David Douglass, who heads the Follonsby Lodge Banner Association, had invited the 420-pupil school to become involved in the re-making of the banner as the colliery seams ran under Lingey House. Last year the youngsters accompanied the Follonsby banner to Durham Cathedral.
“Tony Benn was there and came across to talk to the children,” said Lingey House head teacher Christine Jones. The youngsters told Mr Benn they wanted to make their own banner and asked if they could use his image.
He replied that he considered it an honour and would come to the school to unfurl it for the first time at a special assembly.
As part of their banner project, the pupils worked with Mr Douglass and Beamish Museum to learn about their area’s mining heritage.
With music teacher Jackie Kendrick and students from Gateshead College, they made a CD of mining songs. They will sing one of the songs, Working Man, on the main stage at the Durham Gala today.
“The whole project has been so exciting and the banner unveiling was very emotional,” said Mrs Jones. “Before this project the children didn’t know what coal was but now they know where they have come from.
“It is a fantastic opportunity for them to parade at the Gala with their banner.”
The school’s silk mining banner is thought to be the only one in the country to commemorate a woman’s achievements.
It bears the image of Ellen Wilkinson, MP for Jarrow and a driving force behind the town’s 1936 march to London. She later became Minister of Education, the first woman to hold the post in Britain, and only the second woman ever to have held a position in the cabinet. A housing estate near the school is named after her.
In addition to Mr Benn, the banner also carries the images of school governor and local councillor Peter Mole, who has backed the project, as has Gateshead Council.
Also on the banner is another governor, Stephen Iley, who was a miner at Westoe Colliery in South Shields and who is portrayed as a pitman. Five pupils also feature on the banner, looking at a vision of their area in the future.
The school was also involved in the recent bicentenary of the Felling Pit disaster. In September, the school is planning a visit to Wakefield Mining Museum to continue their mining studies.
Angela Douglas, Gateshead Council cabinet member for children and young people, said: “It is a huge honour to have someone who has been so much involved with the Durham miners over many, many years to unveil the banner.
“The school’s efforts to give their pupils a clearer insight into their area’s mining heritage has produced amazing results and this full-scale miners’ banner is their crowning glory.”