Northumberland students are involved in a major project to study the devastating impact of the First World War on a small mining community.
The students – from Cramlington Learning Village and the James Calvert Spence College in Amble – have been exploring the archives at the Woodhorn Museum, which in 1914 was the site of a colliery employing more than 2,300 men. Nearly 800 of them went off to fight.
To maximise production in support of the war effort, the remaining miners worked extra shifts and explored new sources of coal. In 1916 that lead to an underground explosion which killed 13 men.
In the build up to the 100th anniversary of the end of the war, the students are taking part in a creative writing project called Changed Lives, run by the Hexham Book Festival. After studying Woodhorn’s historic newspaper articles and documents, the students will continue their research back at school before producing written work reflecting their responses to what they have learned.
This will then be recorded by an actor and produced as podcasts, which will also become part of an exhibition at Woodhorn Museum. Finally, the students’ written pieces will be edited to create a scripted performance which they will put on at school, public events and at the Northumberland Miners’ Picnic at Woodhorn next summer.
Cramlington Learning Village Librarian Eileen Armstrong said: “This is an incredible opportunity to take part in a unique and significant project which gives learning a very real purpose for our students. Events of 100 years ago seem very distant, but I’m sure – through their work – our students will quickly understand and share some of the thoughts, fears and hopes experienced by the young people of South East Northumberland during the war.”
Gil Pugh of the Hexham Book Festival added: “We are delighted to be able to deliver this exciting writing for performance project made possible by the ‘Heritage Lottery Fund First World War: then and now’.”
“The project will develop student’s research skills, learning the importance and relevance of our heritage, and through writing workshops and rehearsal days will also enhance their writing, listening and language skills set. The opportunity of assisting in producing the podcast and delivering a performance of their work, both at school and at the annual Miners Picnic, will be a huge achievement, boosting confidence and self-confidence and will widen their experiences and help broaden their outlook.”
The project, she said, will also help the students learn about the power the mining companies had over the lives of mining families and how the prospects and ambitions of many young people changed because of the war and – in some parts of the world today – how conflict still has a major impact on non-combatants.