Durham Miners Gala: a celebration of the power of community and co-operation

Co-operatives have played a huge role in the lives of mining communities, which is why for a second year we were proud to march at the Big Meeting with the Party's Centenary Banner


Durham Miners Gala—or Durham Big Meeting as it is known locally—has been taking place for 134 years. It is a wonderful celebration of community and co-operation.

Banners representing union members of particular village or town mines or pits are marched with brass bands and supported by members of their local communities.  They are joined by members of the wider Labour Co-operative movement, with banners of the Labour Party, Trade Unions and our new Co-operative Party banner.  We marched our banner through the city with comrades from the GMB union.

We also had a stall on the field where the march ends and the celebrations taken place. We had a great response from those attending and met many people involved in co-operation.  I was talking to a family where two generations had worked in the Co-operative, which played a huge role in the lives of mining communities. We also had Co-operative Party members from across the country come and talk to us, as well as many people interested in the Party and what we do.

Durham Big Meeting has been a tradition that County Durham people and others linked to trade unionism have supported. The work of the Durham Miners Association has kept a tradition and a celebration alive. In the last decade, the event has been taken to the heart of the wider Labour Co-operative movement, which is wonderful to see.  Particularly given the effort it takes throughout the year to make it all happen.

The commitment to keep a brass band going is huge from members, their families and volunteers. Local communities and organisations fundraise and organise to take care of banners, to create new banners and to ensure their villages and towns are represented. I remember the effort that my Mam put in to getting our banner at Craghead restored and a replica created which we could march.

A concerted fundraising effort by the Durham Miners Association meant that new staging and sound equipment was used this year.  The Trade Unions also make a big commitment to supporting events around the gala and the Labour Party has a big presence with a tea tent, petitions and recruitment.  The result of all effort from organisations, communities, volunteers and visitors is spectacular. There are a few performance spots along the route, the prime one being around the County Hotel, where bands play for dignitaries on the balcony.

The biggest problem on the day is who to march in with. If you are from the local community, there will be at least one local banner you have a connection with.  I have my village banner and others where my relatives worked at that pit (mine).  Then there’s the trade union banners, the Labour Party banner and other organisations connected to the Labour Party.

On some occasions, I’ve marched in several times with different banners. All Co-operative Party members, friends and family who helped on the day had this problem, which is why I’m really grateful for their help and support.

As well as supporting the event itself, our Co-operative Party has joined the Friends of Durham Miners Gala to secure the future of Durham Big Meeting.  A member is known as a “Marra” which means trusted friend in the local dialect known as Pitmatic.

The culmination of the celebrations were brilliant speeches were given by Jeremy Corbyn, Jennie Formby, Emily Thornberry, with thousands assembled to hear them against the background of Durham Cathedral.  Towards the end of the afternoon, Billy Bragg performed for the crowds closing with the red flag.

We had a great day with so many people showing their support for the Co-operative Party.  We’re already planning what we’re going to do at next year’s Big Meeting.


Co-operative Party General Secretary Claire McCarthy at the 2017 Miners Gala