THE sound of brass bands, laughter and banter echoed through the streets as the Durham Big Meeting got into full swing on Saturday.
An estimated 70,000 people packed the city, with families flocking from across the country to see the colourful parade of banners and listen to the array of brass bands that paraded through the city.
But while many were there to enjoy themselves, there was a serious undertone to the event, with many unions using it to send out their stark message over Government cuts, redundancies, pensions and education.
Raymond McDermott, of Chester-le-Street, was parading with the health branch of the northern region of Unison.
The 65-year-old, who attends the Gala every year, said that the day had shown that regionally the unions are sticking together.
“With the fight following all the job cuts and everything this shows that we are all here to support each other and that people won’t stand to be pushed around,” he said.
“At the same time it’s great to see so many families here enjoying themselves.
“The atmosphere is fantastic – it always is – and the brass bands are amazing.”
Also among those marching was Dean Smith, who has attended the Big Meeting for the last 20 years and was carrying the Seaham Lodge banner.
It was a particularly poignant day for the 44-year-old, whose father-in-law, ex-miner and former Durham County Council leader Albert Nugent, died last year.
He said: “I will be thinking of my father-in-law today as I carry this banner.
“He worked down the pits and was part of the miners’ strikes, as was my dad and brother. It has been a great day and there are a lot of people here.”
Paul Young, 51, was carrying the New Herrington Lodge banner. He said: “The build-up has been fantastic and there’s a great atmosphere. It’s a really good day.”
Among the parade were seven new banners, including ones from Boldon, Washington Glebe and New Durham.
Tom Bainbridge was walking with the Boldon Lodge banner, which was later blessed at a special service.
He said: “It’s great to see the new banner here and it’s one of the few that has actually got miners on it.
“It’s good to see so many people here and although it’s been a bit slow coming in because of the amount of banners, we’ve had a good day.
“The Gala is really important because it’s our heritage.”
Tom Huntington, 50, joined the parade as he helped to carry the Shotton Lodge banner for the eighth year.
He said: “It’s a great day because I bring my family along, the kids and the grandchildren.
“The Gala is an important part of the heritage and culture of the mining community and it’s important we carry the tradition on.
“Mining is in my blood because all my family were miners.”
Neil Webster, 36, was with the Ryhope Lodge banner.
He added: “Generations and generations of people have been doing this and it’s important that we respect everything they did, especially when you think about all those men who lost their lives down the pits.”
Scott Thompson, 38, of Great Lumley, took his family along to Saturday’s meet.
He said: “I think it’s important that the kids get a chance to see an event like this.
“They have been asking questions about the miners and what it was like when people used to work down the pits.
“There is always a unique atmosphere here and I don’t think this type of event could be held anywhere except for Durham.”