We were in a small pub in Keswick. I had a trunk full of spades, hammers, saws, a pickaxe and loads of 4 & 6inch nails. The destination was Frizington in West Cumbria where I was due to set up an Easter playscheme on a windswept field behind the school. Frizington is a neighbour to Cleator Moor. An old man, hearing of my plans told us, “When I was a youngster, my Mam would tell me that if I didn’t stop behaving- she’d send me to Cleator Moor.”
It’s an oddity- it gets to be called Little Ireland on account of the huge proportion of immigrants from the likes of Counties Donegal, Galway and Mayo. The women for work in the jute mill- the men for the coal and iron ore mines and quarries. Most of those industries were dead or on their last feet by the early 70s. Local unemployment was high and it was a long time after I arrived that I met my first overt Protestant. It was, and probably still is a “rough spot” but I remember it warmly.
The town had been chosen as an example of rural deprivation by the Home Office and a Community Development Project set up. I was to work for a local committee and set up the Big Hill Adventure Playground in a 5 acre disused iron ore quarry donated to the town by the Catholic Church. Many of the committee had been on the strike, (for union recognition), committee at Brannan Thermometers. They didn’t need any lessons in determination and confidence- and soon co-opted some of the playground kids onto the management panel.
The County Council- Tory-led and with Martin Brannan as chair of Policy and Resources Committee- hated us. We set up an Information Centre staffed mostly by locals, an Old People’s Co-Op, a youth-run Cellar Project, renovated whole rat-infested streets, helped set up Industrial Co-Operatives…and the Big Hill. They accused us of “being political” when we uncovered multinational fiddles and made us all redundant. The Union made the case for us all being wrongfully dismissed- and we won.
My last job was to make photographs of the town for York University and The Home Office.
I retained my copyright. My job had lasted 2 years & was the end of my work with children & young people
I spent my pay-out on a pair of disco decks and we headed off to Alston Moor. (Sue had joined me after a spell as teacher in the East End of London.)
Farewell to Moffats and The Knights of St Columba Club. Hello The Miners’ Arms, Nenthead and a life of discos and smallholding, (9 and 14 years).