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Tom Leonard Mining Museum

Volume 404: debated on Tuesday 29 April 2003

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3.30 pm

May I say what a pleasure it is to see you in the Chair, Mr. Deputy Speaker? Every time I initiate or take part in a debate, you are in the Chair. It has taken me at least a year to get this debate off the ground. Mr. Speaker finally granted it, so I shall be eternally grateful.

I wish to focus on how our heritage is not always the heritage of the great and the good or the legacy of the rich and powerful, but may be about the work and deeds of ordinary men and women. I wish to bring to the attention of the Chamber how local people in my constituency came together to build a living monument to the work and lives of their forebears, thereby bringing into existence a museum of Cleveland life. I wish to give some idea of the industrial and social history of the area that it celebrates and of the background to the setting up of the museum. I also wish to draw lessons from the work of the volunteers and pass on their suggestions about recording and documenting our heritage and how the Government can assist in the process.

On the industrial and social history, I represent a constituency that was literally and metaphorically built on iron—the Cleveland ironstone field. Iron fuelled the appetite of the blast furnaces and steelworks that lined the River Tees. Industrial archaeologists have lost count of the number of shafts that were sunk and drifts that were excavated in east Cleveland in and around the 1850s and 1860s, but there must have been hundreds.

Large mines employed many hundreds of people. The local communities that sprang up in east Cleveland nestled on the pit side. Small hamlets that once were home to a few lonely shepherds became boom towns with shops, taverns, railway hotels, churches, reading rooms and row upon row of small terraced houses and cottages for miners and their families.

The miners came from the four corners of the United Kingdom. Experienced miners came from older mining areas such as Staffordshire, Durham and, above all, Cornwall, the county that supplied the mining engineers and expertise for the Cleveland ironmasters. Indeed, one of the villages, Carlin How, became known as "Little Cornwall". The muscle power used to man the mine came from elsewhere: from East Anglia, which at that time was undergoing a rural recession, and Ireland, from where people were fleeing famine and poverty.

The mines were part of what people today would call a vertically integrated industry, which meant that the mine owner was also the ironmaster, and the ironmaster was also the shipbuilder or steelworks engineer. Large combines dominated the Cleveland ironstone field; for example, firms such as Bolckow, Vaughn and Company, which at one time was the largest manufacturing firm in the world, and Pease and Partners, which was built on Quaker virtues but run with a fist of iron under the velvet glove.

Mining shaped the life of east Cleveland for more than 100 years. It dictated the life chances and lifestyles of entire communities. In some ways, it could be a liberating force. It provided a way into the technical professions for many industrious young men wishing to learn mining technology but it was also a brute force, meaning illness and shortened life expectancy for many miners. The chance of sudden death was ever present.

The industry engendered a social response from its miners in the shape of a disciplined and well-organised miners union in Cleveland. That union avoided the splits that characterised sections of the miners federations elsewhere, and from it sprang representatives of miners and their families on local councils and boards. In Parliament, the first Labour Member to represent what has become my constituency was a typical miner. Billy Mansfield came to Cleveland as a young man from Suffolk to work in the local Grinkle pit. A check weighman, he became active in the Cleveland Miners Association and became a sponsored candidate. He was the MP from 1929 to 1931.

The decline of mining in Cleveland came with the decline of manufacturing in England. It became cheaper to import ironstone from huge opencast sites in Norway and Australia than to extract it from deep mines in Cleveland. Gradually, the iron mines dwindled until the last one, in North Skelton, closed its doors in 1964.

Having said that, the mining tradition is not dead in east Cleveland. At the same time that the headstocks and spoil heaps of the ironstone mines were being removed and flattened, a new deep mine, designed to extract potash, was being sunk at Boulby, at the extreme eastern end of my constituency. That mine still flourishes and employs, directly and indirectly, some 900 men. It was visited by Lord Sainsbury, Minister for Science and Innovation, only yesterday.

I shall say a few words on the birth of the museum. At the same time that the ironstone mines were being closed, a diligent analyst of the east Cleveland area was determined to see that the society created there was not lost to posterity. The late Tommy Leonard, a local man, was the east Cleveland reporter on the Middlesbrough Evening Gazette. Over the years, he collected artefacts and memorabilia from the mines and local households and amassed a collection that began to overwhelm his home. In the mid-1970s, with a friend, Tommy Robinson, a haulage contractor with close links with the mining industry, he rented a small shop from the local council in the market town of Guisborough. In that shop, he ensured that his artefacts could be put on display to a wider public.

Over the coming years, the collection that Tommy Leonard had started to amass grew through donations until it was clear that a proper museum would have to come into being. Luckily, Tommy Robinson had a long lease on parts of the old Loftus mine in Skinningrove valley, overlooked by a still surviving steelworks and facing the grey North sea. By the early 1980s, the museum had been set up in the old mine's surface workings. During the next few years, the mine became a flourishing institution. Funding was secured from different sources, including the Manpower Services Commission, the then Langbaurgh borough council and Cleveland county council.

The museum moved from being an essentially personal collection to having a more stable basis. It was run by a management board and overseen by another key player, Alan Chilton, the mine manager at Boulby potash mine. The next step forward was in the late 1980s and early 1990s when a section of the original Loftus mine drift was re-excavated. It was only a few hundred feet, but it was enough to give visitors the experience of a mine and the darkness and stillness that typified the mining experience.

The mine is now really in business. It gets, on average, 5,000 people a year through its doors. Over the years, it has attracted thousands of local schoolchildren whose teachers have brought them to the mine as a living part of their history curriculum. It shows them that history is not just about kings, queens and wars but concerns the lives of their fathers, grandfathers, mothers and grandmothers. Many adults visit the mine in summer, including local people who want to discover their roots, tourists from other parts of the United Kingdom and from across the globe. People often come to visit the birthplace of their parents or grandparents and we have had distinguished visitors, such as the Prince of Wales in 1997. The Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley), came, at my invitation, to see flood defences in the constituency during the last summer recess.

The museum now has its own staff and more than 30 voluntary helpers: local people with a mission to explain and to interpret their home area. It has gained full accredited status with the Museums and Galleries Commission, which the museum committee hopes will open new funding streams and opportunities.

The Tom Leonard mining museum may be a minnow when viewed against the great national and regional collections, but it is based on the lives of the people of east Cleveland and it is run and managed by the sons and daughters of miners. The board that manages the museum is considering ambitious expansion schemes. It wants it to become a repository of family and social life for the whole of east Cleveland, a signposting facility for other attractions in our area, a virtual history faculty for local schools and colleges, and to be at the forefront of the regeneration drive that is transforming east Cleveland. Those are ambitious plans for a locally based group but it is determined to succeed.

That brings me to the issues that the museum's management board believes the Government should consider. It points out that it is a small operation compared with average local authority museums. It operates only between April and October and has a modest budget of some £50,000 a year, which is augmented by funding from sources such as the single regeneration budget and the European regional development fund. However, the present funding rules for accessing such external funds are incredibly complex and the board believes that those complexities have been built into the system by the Government and the European Commission. Accessing the single regeneration budget for a small grant for a small project can sometimes be uneconomic because of the time and costs involved in complying with the demands of the monitoring procedures. The costs can sometimes equal the amount of money drawn down and using European funds means having to master labyrinthine rules and regulations.

Peter Tuffs, the chair of the museum committee, told me that he recently looked up the regulations for accessing regional objective 2 funding on the web and found no fewer than 2,000 pages. He told me that he believes
"that many small groups have the vision of what they want to develop and where they want to go, but do not have the ability or the contacts to find a way through the bureaucracy."
That is a particular problem, as is the speeding up of the application process to clear the regional objective 2 funding backlog. Bigger and better resourced regional agencies may be better able to process claims.

Peter Tuffs also told me that such small groups are effectively outside the London loop and do not have the lobbying, or lunching skills that many wealthy institutions in the capital possess. Ideally, the museum would like dedicated annual support from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and some offsetting funding to replace European regional development funding when the current eligibility criteria for the Untied Kingdom ceases in 2006. It believes that regional bodies set up by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, such as the North East Museums, Libraries and Archives Council, are a step forward. Such regional bodies can argue for small projects more effectively than the scattered groups that previously represented the world of regional museums. Such new regional institutions need to be better integrated with other regional agencies such as the regional development agencies, Government offices for the regions and regional chambers.

There is a feeling—I stress that it is only a feeling—that the DCMS is putting in place a regional structure that stands proud of the other Departments of State. I hope that the DCMS will be able to overcome that perceived handicap by making sure that its regional agencies are funded locally to provide properly managed and staffed help desks with the expertise to coach and to guide small, local groups through the funding maze.

I praise the DCMS for its work in bringing new life to Britain's national museums network. It has managed to get rid of a stain on our culture by bringing back free entry to the national museum network. In conclusion, I ask the Minister to listen to my constituents' views and to visit the Tom Leonard mining museum.

3.46 pm

It is a great privilege to respond to my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough, South and Cleveland, East (Dr. Kumar), who, in taking us down memory lane, has given us a good historical snapshot of his constituency. I know that he has been trying to initiate the debate for a long time, and the Chamber is grateful for his persistence. He has graphically explained the worth of the Tom Leonard mining museum, which should be treasured and developed. In the next few minutes I will point out that such museums throughout the country are important in informing us of our heritage. They allow young people—thousands of them have gone through this particular museum—to examine the history of their area.

I thank my hon. Friend for giving me the opportunity to highlight the significant support that all regional museums are receiving for the first time from central Government. As he said, over the years national museums have received the bulk of central Government funding for the sector, which was because of the responsibility to maintain some of the richest collections in the world. We hold those projects in trust for the nation and they are now available for all museum visitors to enjoy free of charge, which has been a huge success. In addition to the £831 million that we are investing in our national museums as a result of the 2002 spending review, we have committed about £70 million from 2002 to 2006 to support the development of high quality services in our regional museums and galleries, which is about a 200 per cent. increase in central Government spending on regional museums.

My hon. Friend and others have read the document "Renaissance in the Regions: A new vision for England's museums", which is a comprehensive piece of work carried out for the Government. It is a national programme, and we intend it ultimately to benefit all English regions, museums and galleries. The Bowes museum and the Tom Leonard mining museum are examples of such benefits in my hon. Friend's region.

On the Tom Leonard mining museum—I do not want to be too cynical about this—it is good to see a journalist doing something good in this world. At least the journalist, Tom Leonard, brought his collection to be the core of the museum. I also acknowledge the staff and volunteers. As has been indicated, had it not been for their dedication, obviously the service would not be available to the region and the nation. I recognise all the free time that they give to the museum. It is incumbent on us all to thank them; we hope that such work will continue.

The Tom Leonard mining museum is supported not only locally and regionally, as has been indicated, but also nationally, by central Government. Three years ago, a project funded by the European regional development fund, One NorthEast, and Redcar and Cleveland council modernised the visitor facilities and helped to conserve the museum buildings. One NorthEast is the regional development agency for north-east England and comprises Northumberland, Tyne and Wear, Durham and Tees valley. It was established by the Government to further economic and business development and regeneration in the north-east.

I take on board the points that my hon. Friend made about bureaucracy in relation to applications for the grant regimes. We have tried to streamline most of the regeneration moneys by means of the single pot that is now going to RDAs. RDAs also have greater influence over the spending of European regional development moneys. Obviously, the venture in question has had difficulty with the complexity of the application forms. I will raise the matter with One NorthEast to ascertain whether something can be done about that and other applications. It is unacceptable that relatively small amounts of money are subject to such bureaucracy, particularly when an organisation such as the museum has stood the test of time and has been found to be responsible.

The greatest support that the Government give to regional museums, such as the Tom Leonard mining museum, is through the implementation of "Renaissance in the Regions", which is a comprehensive approach to museums and galleries. Although the core funding for regional museums comes from local authorities, universities and other sources, which will remain the case, the new funding will be used in a focused way to improve the quality of services provided by our regional museums. In particular, it will he used to develop programmes of education for children and to bring museums closer to the communities that they serve. My hon. Friend has provided a good example of how that can be carried out and how best practice can be developed. The funding will also enable museums to reinvest in research and scholarships on which all new services ultimately depend.

The Tom Leonard mining museum is included in the area administered by the north-east regional hub, which has just been selected, along with the south-west and the west midlands hubs, to spearhead the first phase of the "Renaissance" initiatives. The north-east hub has been allocated £6.7 million for 2003 to 2006 to deliver the vision set out in the document "Renaissance in the Regions". That will include work relating to communities, inclusion, scholarships, collections and research and, importantly, access.

From that funding, £2.7 million has been specifically allocated to help the region expand on and develop its services for school-age children—again, a point made by my hon. Friend. The north-east region also stands to benefit from our programme of national-regional partnerships. We have set aside roughly £10 million to support closer working relationships between national and regional museums. Both programmes will be supplemented with funds from the Department for Education and Skills, and will build on the experiences that we have gained through our earlier funding programmes, including the DFES-led museums and galleries education programme. The current phase of that programme has seen £100,000 of funding granted to each of the regions through Resource, which is the body dispensing the funds in the nine regions.

So what does "Renaissance in the Regions" mean for small independent museums such as the Tom Leonard mining museum? Through our investment set out in that document the hubs will be expected to develop and disseminate best practice and to offer support to other museums in the region. Through significant additional funding for national regional partnerships, our national museums will be able to work with their regional counterparts to support the delivery of cultural policies in the regions. In passing, it might be useful if there were a coupling between the mining museum and the iron museum in Yorkshire. That would create a complementary approach to the whole question of mining, which dates back to the beginning of the past century and is moving into the 21st century.

Through the museum development fund, a network of regionally based museum development officers will support small and medium-sized museums in developing the agenda of "Renaissance in the Regions". When those people are put in place, I hope that they will be able to ensure that there is good practice and that the proper networking of those museums can be brought more effectively to the regions.

For such museums, grants and advisory services will continue to be available from the new regional agencies. Those agencies are building on the work of the former area museums councils and will provide strategic leadership for the whole of the museums, libraries and archives sector. Given the big investment in the wiring up of all our universities, we must make sure that all the assets in our communities are working together.

We are keen as a Government, and in my Department, to ensure that such facilities are working not just as institutions or buildings to visit, but as a living part of that community. They should be major resource and educational centres, and particularly following the debate about "Renaissance in the Regions" and the wiring up of our libraries, they are becoming living institutions to a greater extent than has been the case in the past.

The North East Museums, Libraries and Archives Council was the first regional agency in England, and its support for the north-east museums' bids for heritage lottery funding contributed to the highest success rate of all the regions for applications. The agencies will be involved with museums at all levels. For example, NEMLAC and its predecessor body have been involved in the improvement of the care and preservation of the collections of the Tom Leonard mining museum to which my hon. Friend referred.

Another initiative that we support and fund is the creative partnerships project, which gives schoolchildren in deprived areas throughout England the opportunity to develop creativity and learning, and to participate in cultural activities. The pilot programme is based on the development of long-term partnerships between schools and cultural and creative organisations, including museums.

The benefits for museums, even small ones like the one in my hon. Friend's constituency, are significant. Creative partnerships give museums a chance to build relationships with local schools and to develop and enhance existing programmes and projects, bringing them to new audiences. Funding can be available for some of the costs associated with working with participating schools, and the partnership gives the museums the opportunity to build links with other participating cultural organisations.

Cleveland, which includes part of my hon. Friend's constituency, is part of the Tees valley creative partnership. Tees valley, Durham and Sunderland are working closely with their regional agencies and NEMLAC to create two new posts to facilitate new projects and policies in museums and galleries' work in all the schools in those areas. In addition, the Tees valley creative partnership is examining ways to partner individual schools with museums and galleries in curatorial projects.

Museums and galleries throughout the country will also benefit from the Department's plans for the culture online initiative. That is an exciting new initiative that will use new technologies ranging from the internet to digital TV, and mobile phones to CD-ROMs, to extend the reach of arts and culture. We hope that it will give children and adults better access to cultural assets and activities throughout the country.

Culture online has a budget of £13 million over the next couple of years, which will support 20 to 40 imaginative projects. We have heard about the museum in my hon. Friend's constituency, and I have said that it is now part of the riches of that region that can be linked not only to that region, but to every other region in England and the UK. By linking that with the network that we are introducing in the libraries and the cultural consortium, many more people will gain access to some of the delights that my hon. Friend outlined in his opening remarks. Again, I congratulate him on bringing them to the attention of the Chamber.