We’re unlocking the potential in our coalfield communities – Nicky Wilson

Investment in training and skills programmes by the Coalfield Regeneration Trust continues to pay dividends, says Nicky Wilson

Monday, 25th November 2019, 6:00 am
The rapid closure of the UK’s deep coal mines from the mid-eighties created large-scale problems that many communities have struggled to overcome

5.7 million people live in the UK’s former coalfields and in Scotland alone there were 225 coalfield sites when the coal industry was nationalised in 1947.

I started in the coal industry in 1967 in Cardowan Colliery and remained there until the miners’ strike in 1985 when I transferred to Longannet until it closed in 2002. I became involved in the trade union in the 1970s, then went on to the executive team in Scotland.

The Coalfields Regeneration Trust was established 20 years ago to create opportunities in former coal mining communities for social and economic growth, and ensure they are not disadvantaged by the legacy of the past. 

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Nicky Wilson, trustee in Scotland, Coalfields Regeneration Trust

It was established following a report into the mining communities in England and Wales. The rapid closure of the UK’s deep coal mines from the mid-eighties created large scale problems that many of our communities have struggled to overcome. Scotland hadn’t been part of the report so initially missed out. In 1998 I worked in a small group to successfully lobby Donald Dewar and his team and put the case forward that the coalfields of Scotland had similar problems to those in England and Wales and therefore should be part of the CRT.

We were awarded £1.5 million a year for Scotland. I was selected as a Scottish trustee and because I’d worked in the industry I could see the dramatic effects closures had on communities. Quite often the community was only there because of the pit; closures made a huge impact on employment, training and education.

People had relied on local jobs so in many communities the wider infrastructure was lacking, for example with few bus services allowing people to travel to find work elsewhere.

Our idea from the beginning was to listen to the communities and we always believed in a bottom-up approach, we listened and would try and help them deliver. Gradually over the first few years we built confidence and a good name as a vehicle that was trusted and could work with the mining communities. We have always been committed to directing resources to where they are needed in Scotland and working with others to make a positive difference.

Although we have been impacted by government budget cuts we believe that an acorn grows into an oak tree and have seen signs of that over the years. Our investments into training and skills in communities have paid dividends and we’ve supported numerous employability projects across Scotland.

Fast forward to today and we’ve delivered some incredible programmes such as Community Futures which has supported 46 groups to develop community action plans and awarded £1.9 million to 425 projects through the Participatory Budget Fund. Our work ranges from funding community minibuses through to supporting conversations with Talgo, which intends to launch a £40 million factory in coalfield site Kincardine, creating potential for over a thousand jobs.

We are inspired every day by the dedication of our staff and the communities positively changing things for themselves. Our people are proud and share a heritage that drives a unique community spirit.

That’s why we’re celebrating 29 November as the annual National Coalfields Day along with our 20th anniversary, to provide an opportunity to raise the profile of those projects and people that make a difference every day. We want to encourage individuals to tell their story, share good news, showcase community organisations doing amazing work and thank those who may have helped them.

Nicky Wilson, trustee in Scotland, Coalfields Regeneration Trust