Photographer David Severn captured the lasting impact of coal mine closures in Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire with his series "Thanks Maggie." It delves into the cultural and social aftermath of the 1984-85 miners' strike.
Severn's work not only captures the economic consequences of the closures but also delves into the vibrant culture and resilient spirit of the communities three decades later. Once representing one of the largest former coalfield areas in the United Kingdom, the Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire coalfields played a pivotal role in driving Britain's industrial revolution. However, the consecutive closure of coal mines throughout the 1980s and 90s brought irreversible changes, forever altering the industrial landscape. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's decision to diminish the coal industry and weaken its representative union sparked the historic miners' strike, fracturing the workforce and leading to its ultimate defeat. This marked the beginning of the end for British coal mining, as coal-mine closures became rampant, and unemployment skyrocketed in the coalfields.
For David Severn, "Thanks Maggie" is more than a photography project. It represents a deeply personal exploration of his own roots and identity. His father spent decades working in the mines until he was made redundant due to the closures, while his grandfather held the position of Deputy at Sutton Colliery during his time. Driven by this familial connection and a desire to shed light on the overlooked aspects of ex-industrial regions, Severn delves into the cultural tapestry of the coalfields.
While the economic consequences of the closures were profound, Severn's lens focuses on the cultural resilience that endured in the face of adversity. Music and dance, integral parts of mining culture, come to the forefront in "Thanks Maggie." Severn captures the remnants of this rich musical heritage in the miners' welfare clubs and colliery brass bands that continue to thrive. Furthermore, he uncovers the enduring passion for Rock 'n' Roll within British working-class communities, with many tribute acts performing in the Miner's Welfare Clubs. By highlighting these cultural threads, Severn provides a comprehensive portrayal of a community's spirit and creative outlets amidst industrial decline.
"Thanks Maggie" not only commemorates the coal mining legacy but also addresses the challenges faced by present-day communities. The closure of Thoresby Colliery in 2015, the last coal mine in Nottinghamshire, marked the end of a significant era, leaving behind bright, painted colliery winding wheels that serve as powerful monuments to a bygone industrial past. However, the project also confronts the lasting effects of industrial decline, as some communities struggle with unemployment and unreliable job opportunities. Severn's work serves as a reminder that the repercussions of the closures can still shape the opportunities and futures of the younger generations growing up in these regions.
"Thanks Maggie" is a significant part of the First Art PORTRAIT commission, a three-year arts program supported by Arts Council England's Creative People and Places fund. This initiative aims to bring together communities within the former coalfields of North Nottinghamshire and North-East Derbyshire through various artistic projects. Severn's photography series provides a visual narrative that contributes to a broader understanding of the coalfields' history and the power of art in fostering engagement and community support.