Industry, and especially coal mining, is a vital part of our local history. The collieries brought workers to the valleys, with towns growing in record times. The jobs in the mines were hard and often dangerous, but they provided livelihoods for many families.

The collieries were at the heart of the Welsh valley communities for around 100 years. But from the 1970s the coal industry was in decline, with the National Coal Board closing many mines. The movement to halt the colliery closures came to a head with the strike by the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), starting in March 1984.

The strike brought hardship to the mining communities, with men on the picket lines no longer earning a living. Communities came together to support the striking miners, from raising funds to providing soup kitchens.

The strike would last nearly a year, ending on 3rd March 1985 with the defeat of the NUM, and resulted in the closure of the remaining collieries. Thousands of jobs were lost, and many families moved away from the valleys to find work elsewhere, changing the valley towns and communities.

This year, Awen Cultural Trust will be commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Miners’ Strike, together with our local communities. By sharing the stories of the coal mining industry and the strike, we also want to provide opportunities to learn more about the history of our local area.

This March we’ll be sharing the stories of the 1984 strike with a variety of activities. In Blaengarw Workmen’s Hall we are hosting an exhibition of compelling photographs of Blaengarw during the strike taken by professional photographer Richard Williams. This free exhibition is open 11am-4pm every day from Wednesday 6th to Friday 8th March.

Photographer Richard Williams will also host a talk to tell the stories behind the exhibition photos on Friday 15th March at 6.30pm at Blaengarw Workmen’s Hall. Richard’s book ‘Coal and Community in Wales: Images of the Miners’ Strike, before, during and after’, will also be on sale (£14.99) and Richard will be happy to sign copies after his talk.

As part of the 40th anniversary of the Miners’ Strike, Awen will also host a multimedia exhibition created by VisionFountain. ‘Behind the Picket Lines’ is a traveling exhibition, which includes printed portraits, an audio-visual installation and a soundscape. This exhibition was crafted over five years by the team at VisionFountain, based on interviews with people impacted across the entire South Wales coalfield.

‘Behind the Picket Lines’ will be hosted at Blaengarw Workmen’s Hall on Thursday 21st March, at Maesteg Library on 22nd March, and at Pyle Library on Saturday 23rd March.

This project is funded by the UK Government through the UK Shared Prosperity Fund, in partnership with Bridgend County Borough Council.

Photograph: Strict copyright Richard Williams