From the coal face.....

I come from a mining area in Fife, not the area of pretty fishing villages or world leading universities. Its the one of chronic unemployment since the loss of its industrial past and with a legacy of serious and chronic disease from working in them. It's statistics are lost in the much larger challenges of the West of Scotland but  poverty in all it's  guises is no less of a reality for many communities there.

But why am I telling you this now? Well recently I attended a reception in the Scottish Parliament hosted by the Scottish Council of Voluntary Sector ( SCVO) and the important point was made that voluntary sector , with it's foundations in geographical or communities of interest has an important , crucial role to play in shaping future policy and strategy for change. But that role is sometimes not valued or allowed and the voices left unheard.

And it reminded me of a local tale from the village I grew up in. A decision was made ,before I was born , to build a mine in the vicinity. No real surprise as the area was surrounded by them, the coal was there. These were the days when coal was key source of energy. So the mine was built and opened by the Queen when I was a year old. It had closed before I started school. The Rothes Colliery was to be the show-piece of the great Fife coalfield but, unfortunately, it turned out to be probably the biggest disappointment in Fife's proud mining record, brought about by bad planning of the mining engineers of the time, who totally disregarded the advice from the experienced, local miners who knew the terrain very well indeed. They told them it would flood, it would never work. No one listened.

And so a whole town built in its honour felt a terrible impact, livelihoods were lost and lives changed for ever, 12 million pounds was wasted. And a heritage supposed to last 100 years, gone for good. They should have listened to the old, local miners, they could have saved their money. My own father knew this, he was a young man when he too lost his job when the mine closed, and shared with others the worry of unemployment and family to support.

So it's not just "politically correct" to involve those who know it from the coal face in the design and development of future projects. It's a sound economic and moral imperative. Working together new futures can be shaped, creativity can be captured, shared visions can be owned and committed to; lives can be changed.

Breakthough Breast Cancer has a Campaigns and Advocacy Network, service pledge volunteers, an army of supporters who all know the coal face of breast cancer and all help to shape our campaigning, research and education work. And this is how our sector works. A rich seam of potential to help shape health and social care, housing, welfare , economic development and so on. But why is it still a challenge for many to be heard? We can and should change this.

I haven't lived in the village for over 30 years and it's a forlorn looking place to return to. The busy, friendly village I grew up in is a changed place. The impact on a community whose time has gone is sad to see.  But it's there my own values were shaped and my recognition that I have been fortunate in my life was fostered. I'm gratefully for that and to all those who were part of that too.

Reasons to be grateful.
My family has gained from an excellent education which has helped them reach their potential , we have benefitted from a world class healthcare system, we have lived in good houses in fine parts of this beautiful country. But I won't forget the voices of those at the coal face wherever and whoever they are. They helped shape me after all.


  1. Much food for thought here Audrey...

  2. Thanks Marie and for including it in the roundup. It's from a heartfelt place as you will have gathered.


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