Bold as brass and ready to play on: why Grimethorpe is facing a bright future

AFTER delivering an abject performance as a depressed clown, the character played by actor Stephen Tompkinson in the film Brassed Off is asked by a concerned mother what his main job is.

“Miner,” he replies. “You remember them love? Dinosaurs, dodos, miners…”

Set against the closure of a local colliery and its impact on the members of a local brass band, Brassed Off was released 20 years ago this week when its mixture of dark humour, pathos and outstanding script by writer Mark Herman - together with strong performances from the likes of Tompkinson, the late, great Pete Postlethwaite, Ewan McGregor and Tara Fitzgerald - made it a critical and popular success.

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The film was based on the events at Grimethorpe in the years following the miners’ strike, and was filmed in the area with strong contributions from the South Yorkshire village’s famous brass band.

Grimethorpe Colliery
1965Grimethorpe Colliery
Grimethorpe Colliery 1965

The Grimethorpe Colliery Band still rehearses in the village but none of the players ever worked underground, and many never even saw the famous pit head that was cleared many years ago following the mine’s closure in 1992, four years before Brassed Off hit the cinemas.

In the intervening two decades, much has changed in Grimethorpe and large parts of the village, including the site of the colliery, are unrecognisable from the locations that featured in a movie that made £3m at the box office.

The 1990s were dark years for Grimethorpe, where unemployment levels reached 50 per cent and the problems associated with urban deprivation created major challenges for the authorities and agencies charged with picking up the pieces.

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With unemployment came a loss of hope and a rapid erosion of the age-old working class values that had acted like glue within a small but proud community. Drug abuse among local teenagers became rife and petty crime ran unchecked, largely because many people saw little point in reporting incidents to the police, with whom there was little trust following the experiences of the miners strike.

"Brassed Off""Brassed Off"
"Brassed Off"

However gradually, the village began to get back on its feet, aided by a £100m investment by the Grimethorpe Regeneration Board, which saw spoil heaps cleared to make way for new light industry parks , the construction of a new link road and a series of housing projects.

For Tony Parkinson, the Mayor of Grimethorpe and Brierley, the manner in which the village has reinvented itself is a source of pride and celebration.

“It has been a tough time for a lot of people since the strike but the people of Grimethorpe have prevailed,” said Coun Parkinson. “The community has changed dramatically in the last few years: a lot of new families have moved in and there is now much more diverse mix of residents.

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“However the old community spirit is still hanging in there, especially in places like the White City estate, where people continue to look out for each other and support networks still exist for elderly people and families.”

Ewan McGregor and Tara Fitzgerald in Brassed OffEwan McGregor and Tara Fitzgerald in Brassed Off
Ewan McGregor and Tara Fitzgerald in Brassed Off

The Grimethorpe Hotel, aka the ‘Top Boozer’ which was a key location in Brassed Off, has been demolished and the old Miners’ Institute is long gone, as is the failing high school, the site of which has been earmarked for housing and a new junior school to accommodate the growing population.

The industrial parks on the village edges are well populated and there is ample land around Grimethorpe to accommodate further commercial expansion which Coun Parkinson feels hold the key to future prosperity.

“The industrial united may not provide the same number of jobs as the pit (which at its height employed 6,000 men) but they are a welcome source of local employment,” he said.

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“We have faced our biggest challenges and looking to the future: it would be good to see more high-tech companies coming into Grimethorpe in the years ahead.

“We have the land, we have the road network and we have the workforce. There is very little to be brassed off about in Grimethorpe now.”