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Barnsley Magna Carta project

I am working with Horizon Community College and Barnsley Youth Council on a project to connect young people's rights, and understanding of human rights with the Magna Carta, since it's the 800th anniversary of the signing of the said document on the 15th June this year, when we'll be doing a performance with film, drama and banners bringing things right up to date.

We've done lots of exciting research visits with this lively and maverick group for the project including Lincoln Castle, where there's a copy of the Magna Carta (it's been there for 800 years although they couldn't find it for a couple of hundred years).

We also went to the headquarters of the National Union of Mineworkers' headquarters in Victoria Road, Barnsley. There a collection of very moving banners from all over the north, and it brought back memories of my first work in Yorkshire during the Miners' Strike of 1984-85. This is one of the banners that brought back memories of those years:

The visit affected me a lot and I wrote this poem about it:

Evening study visit to the NUM*, Barnsley.

April hailstones, hard as coal, white

as a vampire's complexion

because someone sucked the blood

from this place, and two tiles have shifted

letting in the water, and the metaphors.

A memorial – a family of bronze hardship

set off by a lawn cut back to silence.

Despite the phone calls, locked doors.

It's only when I disappear between walls

that I find a suited brother in an under-garage

who wears badges of shovels and picks

set off by his tie's red glow, because signs live on.

So we – me and the teenagers full of KFC –

are let in, even though deep mines are now

almost a rumour, granddad's slip of the tongue.

The hall is baroque, a Dream Topping confection,

the ceiling white as sudden loss, gold as church

and banners everywhere, sleeping tigers –

as powerful, as vulnerable – display

words under threat, like union and unity

and the women of St. Helen's, fists in the air

like silver maces, sure the Great Strike

would end in t-shirts of victory

and a Rubik's Cube next to the coiffured head

of ice-blue Thatcher – Empress of Damage –

come to gloat over those fissures in the paint

and the Soviet-like men of Castleford, proud

in their miners' helmets before MacGregor*

surgically removed their scalps.

Then faded deaths in glass cabinets

because the batons broke more than hope.

So, students, these relics are called 'heritage'

though their stillness whispers a great anger

and I smelt the acid tang of betrayal

over there by the bookcase of minutes.

* National Union of Mineworkers

*Sir Ian MacGregor was Chair of the National Coal Board during the 1984-85 strike.

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