‘Mrs Barnsley’ Mel Dyke MBE dies aged 86
Family say she passed away peacefully in her beloved town after suffering a stroke, writes Graham Walker.
FUNERAL DETAILS: Bishop Stephen Race will conduct Mel’s funeral at St Mary’s Church, Church Street, Barnsley town centre – opposite the Cooper Gallery – on Wednesday, August 9, at noon, followed by cremation at Barnsley Crematorium, Doncaster Road, Ardsley, and a wake afterwards at The Holiday Inn Brooklands, Barnsley Road, Dodworth.
LISTEN: Mel spoke about her life, in conversation with Steven Skelly, for a Barnsley Museums podcast in 2019 – listen to it HERE.
Tributes were led this week by Labour’s Barnsley Central MP Dan Jarvis who said: “So sad to hear the indefatigable Mel Dyke has passed away. But what a life and legacy: an inspirational Barnsley woman. Teacher, author, mentor, patron and true Yorkshire champion. Wise, generous, funny, tough. Mel was a fine friend to so many of us, and will be much missed. RIP.”
South Yorkshire’s Mayor Oliver Coppard said: “I’m heartbroken by the news that Mel Dyke has passed away. She was an inspirational educator and author, utterly committed to her town and her community, and a Barnsley institution. But most of all she was kind, and funny and she was my friend. May her memory be a blessing.”
Bard of Barnsley Ian McMillan, the town’s famed poet, journalist,TV and radio star, said: “Such sad news; she was a shining light for Barnsley.”
Barnsley Youth Choir, European & Grand Prix Champions, ranked fifth in the world, issued a statement saying: “We are so sad to learn that Honorary Patron of BYC, Mel Dyke MBE has passed away. We are so grateful for her unwavering support and she will be dearly missed.”
Paul Stebbing, Archives and Local Studies Manager for Barnsley since 2007, said: " Very sad to hear about the loss of the wonderful Mel Dyke MBE. She gave me so much of her time over the years, putting me in touch with many Barnsley notables to interview. Her contribution to heritage & culture will never be forgotten. Rest in peace Mel.”
Barbara Lee, a patron of Barnsley Youth Choir, said: “ I had the pleasure of working alongside Mel in the 80’s and rekindled our friendship through a shared love of @BarnsleyChoir
"To paraphrase the words of Ian McMillan, may Barnsley’s fierce love hold her forever in its heart’ RIP Mel Dyke M.B.E.”
Barnsley born Mel, of Staincross, leaves two children, Tim and Stephanie, five grandchildren, George, Amelia, Charlie, India and Benny, and five great grandchildren, Herbert, Rupert, Amy, Barnaby and Jonny.
She was the daughter of Mary and Benny Robinson, a lifelong Barnsley miner, who not only proudly celebrated their son Derek Robinson’s CBE in 1979 but then Mel’s MBE in 2019. She was recognised in the Queen's Birthday Honours List for services to culture in the town over many decades.
A retired teacher she was "absolutely thrilled and shocked" to be recognised. It said much about the modest, self-effacing way she lived her life in praise of other Barnsley achievers.
Mel, as everyone around her knew, was as inspirational as those she wrote about – a powerhouse, a real-life dynamo, who championed Barnsley and it's people.
A honorary patron of Barnsley Museums and Heritage Trust, she was on the steering group and instrumental in setting up award-winning Experience Barnsley Museum in the Town Hall, in 2013.
As chair of the Board of Trustees of the Lamproom Theatre, she oversaw the conversion of what was a disused building to become a community theatre, which continues to make an important contribution to the life of local people, enabling greater access to and participation in the arts.
Following the closure of facilities for the teaching of the arts in Yorkshire, she established the charity Arts In Action in 2007, to support lifelong learning.
Arts In Action uses the arts as a springboard to help young people take the initiative to work to maximise their own potential through awareness and involvement with successful role models.
Mel was also a member of Barnsley Civic Trust, which cares for the town and shaping its future, by giving a voice to the community and business.
She started out as a bank worker.
Despite not having a degree she began teaching in 1969 and went on for 27 years becoming a deputy head, a teacher training lecturer at Bretton Hall, PGCE tutor at Leeds University, and guest lecturer at Emory University Georgia and UCLA.
Working in schools and colleges in the coalfields, since the 1960’s she was a teacher at Athersley Lawrence Briggs Infants, Darton High School, and was deputy head at The Oaks in Kendray and Grimethorpe’s Willowgarth High School.
Mel was also a lecturer at Bretton Hall College of Education where playwright John Godber was one of her students and also became a lecturer and tutor at Leeds University.
She continued to work to support many projects and charities since her retirement. She was a huge supporter of award-winning world ranked Barnsley Youth Choir.
Mel was an acclaimed author and published several books about the impact of social unrest and employment on Barnsley communities. A miner’s daughter, she used real life stories of high achievers from the pit town to help raise aspirations.
One of her proudest achievements, while deputy head at Grimethorpe's Willowgarth High School, was her book-in-a-day project, with contributions from miners, families, school children and celebrity supporters – it was a coal community's response to the Government's pit closure policy, published by Willowgarth High School and Yorkshire Arts Circus.
Music legend Billy Joel, whose song Allentown was about industry closures and job losses in his homeland, was moved to receive a signed copy on a visit to Sheffield Arena. Mel would often joke, “Billy Joel has my autograph – but I don’t have his.”
She followed it 20 years later with Grimethorpe Revival: Famous Faces Support A Coalfield Community, published by Pen and Sword Books, revisiting many of the children's letters, press interviews and celebrity messages of support.
Cudworth actor Shaun Dooley, who grew up in the village during the strike, and Stephen Tompkinson, who starred with Peter Postlethwaite, in the colliery band film Brassed Off, made in Grimethorpe, contributed to her book.
Famous faces who turned up for the launch at Barnsley's Holiday Inn at Brooklands in Dodworth included former Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott and former UNISON trade union general secretary Rodney Bikerstaffe, Barnsley Central MP Dan Jarvis, the now late Look North TV legend Harry Gration, playwright John Godber, BBC TV Egyptologist Joann Fletcher, radio star Stephanie Hirst and the real Billy Elliot, the Royal Ballet's Philip Mosley - the Barnsley man who inspired the film and stage production with his real life story.
She unearthed great positive role models ranging from education to economics, Coronation Street to Ready Steady Cook, pop music to 'soliciting, sculpture to poetry, international fashion design and hairdressing, burns surgery to fire-fighting, archaeology in Egypt to Christianity in China.
The book's unlikely start is Sir David Attenborough and it closes with an Australian of the Year.
Inspired by the success of her book in a day, she went on to write her first sole author book All for Barnsley, published by Pen and Sword 2003. Her earlier work included The Bus to Barnsley Market, co-editor with Ian Clayton and Brain Lewis, published by Yorkshire Arts Circus 1989.
Of her MBE , Mel said she didn’t see it as a personal achievement. She said: “It's something for Barnsley and everyone I've come across during the last 50 years.
"Culture and the arts have been a big part of my life. I've used the stories of high achievers from the town to help inspire others - to dream realistically.
"I was an English teacher at Willowgarth High School in Grimethorpe during the miners’ strike and the resilience of the community is something I'll never forget.”
She said: “If you’ve forgotten your roots, and they are Bansley, go back and dig them up – use them as part of your elbow, because they will get you there.”