ORGANISERS of the historic Durham Miners’ Gala have issued an urgent appeal for help after they were hit with a £1.4million legal bill.
The major event in the Labour and trade union calendar, which attracts tens of thousands of people to the cathedral city each year, is the largest of its kind in Europe.
However, the Durham Miners’ Association (DMA) has revealed that while costs are rising, funding for the gala is drying up.
The group, which is also facing legal costs of more than £1.4million after it lost its fight to win payouts for members suffering from osteoarthritis of the knee due to their work in the mining industry, is appealing for funds.
General secretary Dave Hopper said the cost of the 142-year-old “Big Meeting” was increasing year on year, with £26,400 alone spent subsidising the brass bands.
“It is self-evident that without a viable source of income the association can not fund the gala indefinitely,” he said.
“To add to our problems, we have recently been informed that we have lost our case on behalf of former miners who are suffering from osteoarthritis of the knee, in the Court of Appeal.
“We now face legal costs which may well exceed £1.4million.
“We are making this appeal to all our friends who believe that it is important to ensure the future of the Durham Miners’ Gala.”
In 2010, eight test cases, which were heard in the High Court at Leeds, were ruled to have been brought too late by judges, who refused to allow the claims to proceed.
On the advice of their legal team, the association applied to the Court of Appeal for permission to appeal, which was subsequently granted.
However, the association was left with massive legal costs when judges in London also rejected the case.
Easington MP Grahame Morris is among those supporting the appeal to save the gala, which this year saw a parade of dozens of miners’ banners and brass bands through the streets of Durham.
Ed Miliband also became the first Labour leader to address the gala for 23 years.
“Durham Miners’ Gala is the largest Labour and trade union event in Europe and is an important part of our North East mining and industrial heritage,” Mr Morris told the Echo.
“I look forward to it every year. For those who believe communities should work and stand together, the gala is a living expression of solidarity for the last 142 years.
“I am confident that the gala will have a long and successful future, as I know local people and supporters from across the country will do all they can to support the Big Meeting and get behind the Durham Miners’ Association campaign.”
Durham City MP Roberta Blackman-Woods said: “I appreciate the need for the launch of the fund, and I am going to encourage as many people as possible to sign up to it so that the Durham Miners’ Gala can continue.
“It is very unfortunate that the DMA is facing such a huge legal bill and dreadful that they have to pay such costs for fighting on behalf of injured miners and that these costs may put the gala in jeopardy.”
The DMA is asking members to make a regular donation.
People who donate £2 a month, or make a one-off payment of £24 a year, will become a member of The Friends of the Durham Miners’ Gala Society.
For more information, visit www.durhamminers.org