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Last Updated: Wednesday, 10 March, 2004, 19:04 GMT
Yorkshire: Slag heaps to ski slopes
By Mary Hennock
BBC News Online business reporter

Cap House Pit and the former Glasshoughton colliery site are both in West Yorkshire, they are both in the same business and neither of them is mining coal.

They have morphed into centres for leisure activities, typical of the new Yorkshire economy that has appeared in the 20 years since the miners' strike. It rests on public sector jobs, financial services, shopping and tourism.

Xscape, rock climbing wall
Hard hats for adventure sports, not mining

Along the way, Yorkshire's economy has become less distinctive, more like the rest of Britain.

At Cap House, near Wakefield, visitors descend into what is now the National Coal Mining Museum's pit, guided by ex-miners.

Glasshoughton has Xscape, a snow slope and leisure complex built by PY Gerbeau, the man who once ran EuroDisney and the Millennium Dome.

It cost 68m, employs 800 people and has rock climbing, cinemas, bowling alleys and upmarket sportswear shops.

Working at Xscape is "a job that people would kill for", says 18-year old Michael Collin as he hands out boots and skis.

Michael joined Xscape shortly after it opened last October and is now a qualified snow-boarding instructor. Overtime tops up his basic wage of approximately 200 a week.

Good pay in the pits

But how does working in Yorkshire's remodelled economy compare with the jobs striking miners fought to defend?

More than half of all the county's jobs are now in services, according to regional development agency Yorkshire Forward.

National Coal Mining Museum. Cap House Pit, Wakefield
Passing on the knowledge at the National Mining Museum
This is a far cry from the options that faced apprentice David Gale in the early 1960s. "It was either the steelworks, the YEB (Yorkshire Electricity Board), or the pits."

Miners were once blue-collar aristocrats, earning up to twice as much as Yorkshire factory workers in what was viewed as a job for life with a secure pension. "I went for the money," says ex-miner Mr Gale.

Laid-off miners found the jobs they finished up with "were nowhere near as well paid as they had with the Coal Board", he adds.

Average pay lags behind

Today, the region's hot shots are corporate lawyers, consultants and bankers in Leeds, which has become Britain's biggest financial centre outside London.

But average Yorkshire wages lag behind national levels. In general women still earn less than men; however there is no single working class job skewing the pay gap the way mining once did.

Miners suffered hardship and danger for their relatively high pay.

Mining museum guide Keith Turton worked 37 years underground in cramped tunnels and two inches of water.

His grandfather was killed in the pit the week he was due to retire, he says.

Most of the other ex-miners I met at Cap House had health problems - vibration white finger, which has similar effects to RSI, arthritis, deafness or lung problems from breathing coal dust.

"Anybody that's done 30 years [underground] and come out with nothing [wrong] has been very lucky," says guide John Swallow.

Changing trends

Three major trends have reshaped Yorkshire's job market; more government jobs; the rise of Leeds as a financial centre; and Yorkshire's appeal as a distribution centre for retailers.

Manufacturing has declined, but overall, Yorkshire's economy grew 2.2% last year, keeping up with the UK as a whole.

Above ground, the new economy is as visible as the slag heaps and pit heads used to be.

National Coal Mining Museum
Pit ponies are a star attraction at Cap House
The web of motorways south of Leeds are lined with huge distribution depots for supermarket chain Asda, clothing brands and the Royal Mail.

Yorkshire is "at the crossroads of the country", says Tom Riordan, strategy director at the Yorkshire Forward regional development agency.

Cortonwood colliery, where the strike started is now a shopping centre, while Manvers Main pit has been regenerated with light industry, offices, and call centres.

But the industrial heartland of South Yorkshire remains a depressed area, which will have received nearly 1bn of European Union aid in the six years to 2006, says Mr Riordan.

While work has become more white collar and far less obviously dangerous, it has also become more short-term - call centres are already looking less secure as jobs move abroad.

YORKSHIRE WEEKLY PAY
Yorkshire average 425; UK 475
Men full time: 463; UK 525
Women full time: 360; UK 396
Men part time: 167; UK 163
Women part time: 144; UK 149
Source: Yorkshire Forward, 2003
"I've had four jobs in my working life. I've got a son who has had four jobs in 12 months," says mining museum guide Dennis Fisher.

The dangers of mining created "a camaraderie that was unique to miners", he adds.

By contrast, Xscape is pulling in the desk-bound new working class to try out adventure sports like rock and ice-climbing.

Its "urban lifestyle" shops sell mostly upmarket sports clothes to tap into "the work hard, play hard ethic", says marketing manager Sarah Porteus. Its "the new culture", she explains.

As the North-South divide disappears in the job market, it remains to be seen if Yorkshire's shifting economy will bring cultural changes too.




SEE ALSO:
UK Coal sees loss crumble to 1m
04 Mar 04  |  Business


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