- Why the North East’s mining history resonates with so many families and residents
- About Alfie’s deep connection with the region’s mining past and how this forms part of his work today
- The role of The Common Room in educating children about engineering and the skills of the future
Mining is in my blood. My Dad was a miner, working his whole life as a Hewer at Vane Tempest Colliery, in Seaham Harbour. It was a tough job but he was so proud of it.
The pits may be all gone now but I remain in awe of my Dad and all the other miners who grafted in what were very difficult jobs. It’s unthinkable now the type of conditions those pitmen were in every day but the camara- derie got them through. They were working underground in very dangerous conditions but they laughed together all day.
The contribution these ordinary, working class people made to the North East was massive so when the opportunity came up to support The Common Room – a place that commemorates that – I was so excited to get involved.
A Jewel in Newcastle’s Crown
When I first visited Neville Hall, I remember thinking “what a hidden gem – why did I not know this was here?”
We had this celebration of our history right in the centre of Newcastle – a beautiful old building with so much to offer. It’s a real jewel in the crown tucked between Central Station and the Lit & Phil Library but the problem was not many people knew about it.
People are always amazed when they see what The Common Room has to offer. As soon as you walk through the door, you can see what a special place it is.
The Common Room team have done a fantastic job on the restoration and I’m really excited for everyone to go along and see this incredible new venue for themselves.
As an illustrator, I find The Common Room and the history behind it inspiring. I’ve drawn coal miners for a few years now and it is a theme I often find myself coming back to.
I think the thing about mining that still resonates after all these years is that many people here in the North East will remember life when mining was a job that everybody did. A lot of people still have memories of relatives going down the pit and then struggling through the strikes and fighting for their jobs. Every family has a story to tell.
One of my most popular sketches is ‘Jam Sandwiches’ and that shows miners eating their bait at work. The inspiration for this came from my uncle, also a miner, who always said jam sandwiches were the only thing they could taste underground so that’s what everybody had.
I did some research for this sketch on an online forum and the response I got was massive – mining is something as a region we are still very passionate about even today.
In my new children’s book ‘The Last Coal Miner’, I try to share the history with a younger audience who might not know much about it. The story is set many years after all the pits have closed and it’s about two children who are playing on a mine wheel monument when it starts spinning and the ground cracks open to reveal an old miner coming up out of a lift. The book is all in Pitmatic with funny hieroglyphics but has quite a sad ending.
A Place for the Whole Family
The work that has been done to create The Common Room is amazing. It’s a real asset to our city, preserving our heritage and giving us all a beautiful new space to enjoy.
What I really like about The Common Room is it isn’t stuck in the past. It is very forward-facing and yes it has the history, but it is also about the future and hopefully inspiring the next generation.
As a dad, I’m impressed by The Common Room’s programme of educating children in a fun way in subjects like engineering. We spent a day at Neville Hall during the Great Exhibition of the North and it was a real highlight for the whole family.
The Common Room is a great resource where young people get a chance to explore our heritage and also think about skills for the future.
Mining will always be an important part of the histories of many people living in the North East and The Common Room gives us a wonderful place to celebrate that.
Artist, actor, writer, presenter, singer, impressionist, Alfie Joey has appeared everywhere from the Comedy Store to Coronation Street. Born in a County Durham pit village, he presents the breakfast show on BBC Newcastle and his TedX talk ‘Changing Lanes’ is on YouTube which tells his remarkable story and background.
On TV he played Vic Reeves’ doctor in the popular sitcom ‘Hebburn’. He was in all seven series of ‘Ideal’, a BBC sitcom starring Johnny Vegas. Other TV work includes shows on Netflix and Amazon Prime.
Alfie is also one half of the comedy impressionist double act The Mimic Men and their BGT appearance has had over 3 million views on YouTube. You can see Alfie’s art at the North East Art Collective, the gallery in Eldon Garden, Newcastle or at his website.