Day 14: Barnsley – Wakefield – Leeds

This stage of our Marcha took us through the former coal mining heart of Yorkshire, past the towns which were crippled and crushed by Margaret Thatcher’s government in the 1980s.
Leaving Barnsley, we were joined by 12 trade unionists and Labour Party members who had travelled by minibus from Wakefield. Union flags mixed with environmental groups’ flags as we walked briskly north along the A61.
And we were joined by two new members to the Marcha!! Welcome to Russel from Croydon and Phil from Andover !!
Majid Khan, Labour councillor for Wakefield South, told me about the history of the NUM (National Union of Miners) in Yorkshire; how in 1984 Thatcher used huge squads of mounted police to charge through the picket lines; about the battle of Orgreave where the police were given a £10 bonus for working a shift, which they waved in front of the miners to taunt them; and about how these towns suffered the economic and social devastation for decades after, and are still now trying to rebuild their communities. The images of these strikes and the brutal police reaction were for me my first awareness of politics when I was a student in the 1980s, and those images of police brutality and that of the Tory government have stayed with me.

Miners’ strike 1984

In Wakefield we were welcomed by a crowd and led to a rally on the cathedral steps. Local councillors and activists spoke about the climate crisis, but the star of the show was 10-year old Amber, who demanded that the government leave a world fit for her to live in. She brought tears to my eyes.

Wakefield Cathedral rally

Lunch was cooked for us by students in the local college, and students studying Spanish joined us to translate.
To work off the calories, we sped up to the Halfway House, a pub which was not only half way from Wakefield to Leeds, but also the halfway mark of our whole journey! But we’d marched past it before we realised!
We were joined by activists from Leeds as Wakefield people turned back home. Eventually the white skyscrapers of Leeds were glimpsed from afar! Leeds, our biggest city!
We were guided into the Real Junk Food Cafe, which takes food past its sell-by date from local supermarkets and provides food for the community – free to all with donations optional.
Labour MP for Leeds NW, Alex Sobel, joined us for food and spoke about his role as U.K. Parliamentary Rapporteur for COP26.

First sighting of Leeds

But the day was not finished! We walked into Leeds City Centre as part of an annual festival, Light Night, where local artists create sound, light and music installations across the city. We were serenaded by the fantastic Leeds Philharmonic Chorus, bringing yet more tears to my eyes!
At last we reached our van and had the usual complicated ritual of arranging walkers with hosts, and managing the logistics of rucksacks and parking.
In the few minutes between reaching my bed and falling into a deep sleep, I had time to contemplate the efforts of so many people; their support, their energy, their determination, their optimism and how together we can make an impact.

Written by: Nicky Brooks.

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