We had next 20 years at Kellingley mapped out, say union chiefs

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MINING Union reps Keith Poulson and Keith Hartshorne have spent more than 50 years working at Kellingley.

They have become used to speculation about the future of the colliery and its owners UK Coal. But the announcement on Wednesday that the company planned to shut the North Yorkshire site, as well as one in Thoresby, Nottinghamshire, still came as a bolt out of the blue.

Keith Poulson, (left), branch secretary of the NUM Kellingley, with Keith Hartshorne, branch NUM delegate at Kellingley

Keith Poulson, (left), branch secretary of the NUM Kellingley, with Keith Hartshorne, branch NUM delegate at Kellingley

Mr Poulson, 54, the National Union of Mineworkers Kellingley branch secretary, has worked at the pit since 1988, following the closure of South Kirkby colliery.

When the branch heard an announcement was coming, he thought UK Coal had finally secured investment that would ensure the future of the pit.

“To find out we were looking at closure in 18 moths was a shock. Our members are devastated.

“It’s been mooted that some are at an age when they can move on but people are absolutely gutted.

“We had the next 20 years mapped out at Kellingley - the reserves are there. “

When Mr Poulson first moved to ‘Big K’, as the colliery is affectionately known, he was told there was potential for ‘Kellingley Two’, with a second pilot shaft at Snaith.

Something he still strongly believes is a viable option.

“We have the potential in the same seam of coal to go all the way the East Coast. That is hundreds of years of coal that is going to be sterilised and lost.”

The focus for the branch now is to keep its members employed for as long as possible, and Mr Poulson said they will do “whatever it takes” to keep working.

More than 100 members of the union were due to meet last night at Kellingley Club in Knottingley.

Mr Hartshorne, NUM delegate at Kellingley and Yorkshire vice chairman, also came to the colliery in 1988 after the closure of Nostell Colliery.

Although he only travels from nearby Castleford to get to work, many come from much further afield.

“I’ve been through a pit closure once, but some of these lads have been through it a dozen times. We’ve got people who live as far south as Stoke and as far up as Northumberland.
“The biggest impact of closure will be around the mine but the ripples will spread over hundreds of miles.

“We have a vast range of work force, from men who are 60 to whom closure won’t come as such a hardship, but we have young lads and apprentices who were taken on as late as January this year. It’s come a real body blow for them.

“The company told them when they took them on that there was 15 years in Kellingley. My heart goes out to them became they believed they had a future here.

“It’s still a hard, dirty job but it’s something that is in people’s blood.

“The young lads think they are living the dream. They are the sons of miners who worked here.”

Mr Hartshorne firmly believes the colliery has a future, and implored the Government to step in.

“Kellingley needs a loan to bridge over this hurdle,” he said.

“This is a profitable pit, 70 per cent of coal from here goes to Drax Power Station down the road. We understand they still need up to 8 million tonnes a year. Kellingley can produce 2.3million tonnes. We have a ready made market for our product on our doorstep.”

Exploration work at Kellingley began in the 1950s and the 10km site started coaling in the early 1960s. The ramifications of closure go beyond those who work at the site.

David Hallaways, landlord at nearby Knottingley pub Bayhorse, said: “There is a lot of love for the pit in this community. People have fond memories of it.

“It’s a sad time for different generations who live here. The pit is embedded in the community spirit.”

Paul Roberts lives just metres from the dolliery entrance on Glebelands and for him, it is the legacy of closure that worries him.

“It’s not nice for the people who work there but also for the wider community - jobs are hard to come by. If you look at Kellingley itself there’s nothing here, just a flower shop and garden centre. If there are job losses where will these people go for work?”