Meet the Shirebrook ex-miners planning to vote Tory in next month's election

Mining has a long history in Shirebrook, where twin shafts were first dug in 1896 to a depth of 1,630ft. Two years later, the men went on strike in a dispute over pay that saw them threatened with eviction from the mining company's houses.

The community survived typhoid outbreaks and an appalling infant mortality rate of 236 per one thousand births at the start of the twentieth century and, by the 1930s, mining families were spending their holidays together at a purpose built miners' holiday camp in Skegness.

Miners at Shirebrook Colliery.

Miners at Shirebrook Colliery.

But old newsreel footage from the 1984-5 strike shows how deep the divisions had become when pickets threw bricks through the windscreen of van carrying miners returning to work.

Drive up the hill out of town today and you can see why the site of the old colliery is once again a source of tension.

After the pit closed in 1993, the 930-acre site was turned into a business park and half of it was given over to billionaire Mike Ashley's Sports Direct. By 2016, figures suggest the firm's warehouses were employing 3,500 agency workers - mainly from eastern Europe.

Anti-social elements

Douglas Steel. Image: Dean Kirby/inews.

Douglas Steel. Image: Dean Kirby/inews.

Hundreds of protesters marched on the site saying it was attracting “anti-social elements” from abroad. There were also claims of a clash of cultures in the town - with a local newspaper reporting that gangs of men were drinking on the streets and leaving women and pensioners feeling intimidated.

“People are annoyed because there has been an influx of people from Europe because of Sports Direct,” says Yvonne Chapman, 74, who is shopping in the market square. “We've seen the effects of immigration here. That's why people want Brexit.”

“I come from a mining family,” she adds. “My dad and my granddad were miners. It goes back centuries. But I think we're all voting Conservative now. I don't even know the name of their candidate. I've never needed to know until now.”

Inside a working men's club near the square, where a group of men are enjoying an afternoon pint, 65-year-old Pete Watson says he is sticking with Labour.

Yvonne Chapman. Image: Dean Kirby/inews.

Yvonne Chapman. Image: Dean Kirby/inews.

“We need to get Brexit done, but I've always voted Labour and it's likely I'll do so again. I worked at the pit. People say things, but they forget what happened in the past.”

'Brexit is the dividing line'

Over at the Shirebrook Miners' Welfare Club, which was refurbished with the help of EU funding, the secretary Alan Gascoyne is getting the bar ready for tonight's Northern Soul music night.

In 1984, a bowling green hut at the rear of the building served as a soup kitchen. The wives' action group was upstairs.

Wayne Kissane. Image: Dean Kirby/inews.

Wayne Kissane. Image: Dean Kirby/inews.

The former National Union of Mineworkers official, who is still relied upon to help former miners and their widows with accessing benefits and fuel allowances, says he feels sad to hear that some men and women in the town are preparing to vote Conservative.

“Brexit is the dividing line,” he says. “It's a little England thing. Some of them thought the people at Sports Direct were taking their jobs, but they don't realise they were employed by agencies. They are working people being shafted just like us.

“I've had futile arguments with people who say Brexit is the priority. I tell them that the NHS is the priority and, without workers from the EU, there would be no NHS.

“Labour have built three schools around here. Dennis Skinner is a great constituency MP. If you have a problem, he will sort it no questions asked. You can't beat good representation and, if a Conservative gets in that will be gone.

“The Tories have always hated miners. Winston Churchill, Ted Heath and Margaret Thatcher all hated us and Boris Johnson is the same.”

Back in the market square, 76-year-old Douglas Steel has just stepped out of a cafe with his wife Connie. The pair met at a fairground in this square back in 1962. He is hobbling on crutches - a reminder of the back injury that finished his mining career at Shirebrook pit in 1987.

“I was born right there above the bank in 1944,” he says. “We had no electricity and I was born by gaslight. I joined the union when I was 15.

“During the miners' strike, I had no choice but to go back to work. I needed to for the sake of my family. It was the bully boys from Doncaster who kept us out. They came down here and smashed people's gates to make bonfires.“It makes you cry what's happened to this town. It used to be together. But the town is shattered now.

“I've been voting Conservative for years and that's what I'll be doing again in December. They're the only party that can run this country.”