Page last updated at 13:22 GMT, Thursday, 11 December 2008
Coal still uniting the community

CISWO Disabled Christmas party in Penywaun 2007
CISWO Disabled Christmas party in Penywaun 2007

The pits are long gone from the south Wales valleys but miners welfare facilities still help bind the communities together, as Rhys Williams, Community Development Officer for Coal Industry Social Welfare Organisation (CISWO) explains.

In response to the section on the website 'When Coal Was King?' the question was asked 'What binds the community now?', I think that very few people would disagree when I suggest that the coalfields of South Wales lost a little of their identity along with their livelihoods with the decline of the industry.

But apart from the industrial scars on the landscape which are quickly healing, a little part of the industry still survives along with its heritage.

There are forty current miners welfare facilities still operating in South Wales enabled and supported by the Coal Industry Social Welfare Organisation (CISWO).

The miners institute was once the focal point of the community, they were originally constructed, utilising grant assistance from the miners welfare fund, a fund which arose as a result of The Mining Industry Act 1920.

The Act represented the first piece of legislation which placed a mandatory requirement to provide social welfare opportunities to each and every mining community, by imposing levies upon the coal operators.

Some communities did pioneer the concept of 'Miners Welfare', by establishing community facilities as early as the late 19th century.

Statutory miners welfare provision required mineworkers to donate a penny a week to their local welfare, so that these buildings' revenue costs could be met. a typical Miners' Welfare acted as houses of learning and education, and played host to recreational pursuits.

Many originally housed libraries, cinemas and dance halls, whilst others contained swimming pools.

Large parcels of land were also donated to the colliers for recreational pursuits and are still entrusted to local charities and CISWO who ensure they are used for recreational pursuits only and are not accessible for building and construction.

In their present guise the Miners Institute still operates as a local charitable organisation whose aim is to serve the whole of the community and not just those of mining stock. They offer themselves up as community venues, staffed by volunteers who give their time for the betterment of the community whilst protecting the heritage of the past.

One such welfare, and probably the highest profile of the current stock of miners welfare halls in the UK is the Celynen Collieries Institute and Memorial Hall, commonly known as the Newbridge Memo, runner-up on the BBC's Restoration programme.

So therefore it brings me back to the original question 'What binds the community now?' Personally I would like to think that 'coal' is still helping our communities, the industry has provided us with some outstanding facilities that still help to facilitate a sense of belonging in the community.

CISWO itself is still providing much needed support to the former colliery workers of south Wales and beyond. As a national charity it not only supports localised charities with advice and professional guidance, it also offers up a social work service for former miners, their wives/widows and dependents with benefits advice, financial hardship grants and bereavement counselling.

There is also a social inclusion officer employed who helps set up social inclusion events for the wives and widows of ex-miners.

CISWO also administers the Court Royal Miners' Home in Bournemouth, again a charitable organisation set up by the workers of the industry from the South Wales area which provides highly subsidised holidays to former colliers, as well as offering competitive holiday rates to miners' widows.

Anyone who feels they can benefit from any of these services may contact CISWO on 01443 485233.

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