Miners welfare clubs in Sheffield, South Yorkshire and north Derbyshire that are beacons of hope

Friday night is bingo night at Renishaw Miners’ Welfare Social Club, near Sheffield.

Wednesday, 5th January 2022, 2:39 pm

At around 6.30pm, before the events of the night begin, two families are gathered in the club’s lounge room, each represented by three generations, every one of them with a strong connection to the club.

“I don’t know what they’d do in the village now without this place,” says Stefan Plawecki, long-time bar manager and friend to both families. This is a sentiment echoed by all who are present.

To the residents of Renishaw, the club is much more than just a place to drink on a Friday and Saturday night, it is a hive of charitable gestures and community support.

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Eric Richardson outside Dodworth Miners’ Welfare Club. (Picture: Simon Hulme).

Sam Farnsworth, whose father was a long-standing committee member, and whose daughter now occasionally works behind the bar, has been a committee member for 15 years.

Sam talks proudly of how the club was able to help residents during last year’s lockdown. “It was a challenge for this village and this community,” she says, “but it also brought this community together.”

Although the club was closed, the committee used it as a base to help the village, which proved a lifeline during lockdown.

One night, roughly four weeks into the first lockdown, the group received a surprising request from a man who wanted someone to sing to him.

Some staff and members of Renishaw Miners Welfare. (Picture: Simon Hulme).

After Sam frantically printed off song sheets and located someone with a speaker, the group headed to the man’s address. Less than three hours after the request had been made, around 30 residents stood out on their doorsteps singing Sweet Caroline, all orchestrated by the committee at Renishaw Miners’ Welfare Social Club.

Renishaw is thriving, a modern embodiment of the community spirit which miners’ welfare clubs were built to create. It now has around 1,000 yearly paying members and profits are on the rise.

It is, however, a rarity among such clubs. Many have seen drastic declines in sales, leaving them struggling to survive, whilst others have been forced to close permanently. South Yorkshire alone has seen the loss of clubs such as Grimethorpe Miners’ Welfare, Hatfield Main Miners’ Welfare, and Highfield Miners’ Welfare, all of which have closed, or had their buildings demolished, since the year 2000.

Another of these clubs is Maltby Miners’ Welfare Institute, near Rotherham, known locally as the ‘Stute’. In October last year, despite a long running campaign to stop it being sold, the Stute was auctioned off to private investors and, shortly after, closed its doors for good and six months later a fire broke out.

Had they been able to save it, the group sought to reignite the sense of togetherness the Stute had brought to the community in the past.

Terry Gormley, a former miner and firefighter who now makes a living buying and developing businesses, was one of the campaign’s leaders.

“Once these opportunities are gone, the mining community is never going to see them again,” he says, noting how devastating the loss of such an asset can be for places like Maltby.

Terry’s involvement began when he learned the Stute was closing and joined around 100 other people there for its final night. On returning home, Terry posted on a local Facebook group asking if anyone knew why the Stute was set to be closed. He awoke the next morning to around 150 comments expressing outrage and sadness at its loss.

This led Terry to create the Facebook group ‘Maltby Miners’ Welfare and Recreation Protection Group’, which gained almost all of its 2,200 members just a week after its creation. “It’s absolutely devastating,” says Terry, describing recent events, “so many things were celebrated there, and people’s greatest memories from growing up are in that club, now they’re all memories. Now it’s flattened.”

Here, Terry is speaking from personal experience. He, his two older brothers and his dad all worked at the Stute’s local pit, while his mum worked in the pit canteen.

“It was a key part of everybody’s lives during the 80s and 90s and during the Miners’ Strike it was a place that looked after everybody, and everybody congregated,” he says. “That community when I grew up was a wonderful community, but with all these facilities going, that’s the last bit of it dissipating.”

Terry’s words illustrate the importance of places such as the Stute, where struggling communities can come together.

Some miners’ welfare clubs, however, are fortunate enough to have survived through times of hardship and are now operating comfortably. One such place is Dodworth Miners’ Welfare, near Barnsley.

Eric Richardson, a 73 year old ex-miner and now club chairman, describes the recent refurbishments. “When we used to come in it looked like your Granny’s front room,” he says. “When the younger lot got involved though they knew what they wanted… television screens, a big projector, and now what we have is a really decent sports bar.”

The success of Dodworth Miners’ Welfare, however, hasn’t been easy. Four years ago, the club was in the depths of financial hardship and faced imminent closure. Through the effort of its patrons and board members, however, the club was able to pull through. It has since, in Eric’s words, “gone from strength to strength”.

“It is difficult though,” says Eric. “You’ve got to have that passion, that will to survive, and I’m proud to say that we’ve got that, we’ve got different people from different backgrounds that sit on our committee and make us a lot stronger than we’ve ever been before.”

Eric also notes the passion found amongst the younger members of the board. The community spirit which he says was the saviour of the welfare is still present today. After the recent passing of the Welfare’s bowling green groundsman, members of the bowling community came together to take over maintenance of the greens in their spare time.

Eric, like many others, is aware of the fine line that exists between success and closure for places like Dodworth Miners’ Welfare. But he is also a strong believer in the ability of other clubs to succeed, given the chance.

“You go into any miners’ welfare club in Yorkshire and you can see the tremendous potential they’ve got,” he says, “just for a bit more financial investment, that potential could be achieved.”

In Renishaw, Sam takes a moment to consider the luck their club has had. “It could quite easily have gone the other way,” she says, “just maybe a couple of incidents or actions could have quite easily flipped the club on its head.”

But when asked about the future of the Renishaw Miners’ Welfare Social Club, all are in agreement. “Carry on as we are,” says Brian Doxey, another family friend and long-time committee member. “We’ve got everything we could want here, it can’t get any better.”