Ill-wind blows through Yorkshire’s musical heritage

The Grimethorpe Colliery Band
The Grimethorpe Colliery Band
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MOST OF the pits have gone, but still the music lives on. For how long, however, remains uncertain.

Melodic and melancholy, the brass band is one of the last bastions of the north of England’s rich coal mining heritage.

But the leader of South Yorkshire’s famous Grimethorpe Colliery Band, which inspired the Hollywood film Brassed Off, has revealed how it relies on dedicated volunteers and donors to keep the legacy alive, their cultural significance apparently lost in some parts of Whitehall.

Exclusive: How arts funding disadvantages the north

The Barnsley band just one example of an arts organisation which has failed to meet the criteria for public funding from Arts Council England (ACE), which is today accused of a continued bias towards London.

Two years ago, the cash-strapped band was saved from the brink of collapse after the media publicised its plight, yet it is a daily struggle to make ends meet and continue to organise workshops for young people, which take place three times a year.

Ewan McGregor and Tara Fitzgerald in the film Brassed Off

Ewan McGregor and Tara Fitzgerald in the film Brassed Off

Its chairman Peter Haigh told The Yorkshire Post how it has almost given up on applying for ACE funding.

“It feels as though the north always loses out, whether it’s the arts or electrifying the railway line or the railway line. After Watford things become a lot different,” said Mr Haigh.

“There’s nothing more demoralising. It sometimes seems that because it’s in London, it’s accepted, and as soon as it starts coming up here we have to be grateful for what we’ve got. It’s not fair.”

When Grimethorpe’s colliery closed in 1993, its then owner Richard Budge of RJB Mining agreed to continue sponsoring the band, and later incarnations of his firm, UK Coal and Powerfuel, continued the arrangement. But when Powerfuel went into administration in 2010, the money stopped.

Mr Haigh said: “Two small sponsorships, that’s all we have got now. We’ve tried other things but concerts are our main source of income, we go all over the place

“It has been very difficult, like spinning plates trying to make ends meet. We’ve registered as a charity and had to set all these things up so that we can carry on going to competitions.

“We don’t make a profit. Everything is about covering costs. It’s the dedication and commitment from our members which keeps it going.

“We applied for funding but we got turned down, and when we applied for a grant to try and make a CD we were told we did not meet the criteria.

“Brass bands are a massive part of our heritage. We are known all over the UK and the rest of the world.”

Barnsley Central MP Dan Jarvis, a former shadow minister for culture, has highlighted the importance of brass bands in preserving the area’s industrial heritage.

He recently met with the ACE’s Darren Henley, where he was reassured of the chief executive’s determination to “iron out inequalities”.

“For too long it has been the case that Yorkshire has not received a fair allocation of Arts Council funding, particularly when compared to the money that is poured into London,” Mr Jarvis told The Yorkshire Post.

“I believe that institutions like the Grimethorpe Colliery Band, the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Opera North, the Barnsley Youth Choir, the Hepworth gallery and others, are hugely important parts of our cultural offer here in Yorkshire. We must strive to ensure that they receive a fair and equitable funding solution from the Arts Council.

“It’s clearly important that cultural organisations in London are supported, but this should not be at the expense of investing money into the regions.”