Hit West End show donates £60,000 to East Durham community which inspired its tale

A moving musical which has wowed millions has given back to the former mining community which inspired its tale.

Wednesday, 13th April 2016, 8:48 am
Updated Wednesday, 13th April 2016, 8:52 am
Billy Elliot writer Lee Hall and the company of the musical, including Haydn May, one of the youngsters to play Billy, present a cheque for £59,438 to Malcolm Fallow, Chief Executive Officer of the East Durham Trust at Easington Social Welfare Centre

After 4,600 performances, The West End version of Billy Elliot took its final curtain call on Saturday, bringing to a close an 11-year-run at London’s Victoria Palace Theatre.

Based on the hit film, the musical is set against the back drop of the Miners’ Strike as one boy dances his way from East Durham to the Royal Ballet School.

Easington Colliery Band at the final West End performance

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In tribute to the communities scarred by the strike, bosses at the final show have donated ticket sale and bucket collection proceeds of £59,438 to the East Durham Trust, which supports people living in the former pit villages.

The film and musical’s writer Lee Hall was on hand with the cast of the touring version of the musical, currently playing at Sunderland Empire, to present the cheque to the trust.

They met at Easington Social Welfare Centre, formerly the Miners’ Welfare Hall, which was a key location during the 1984/5 strike as well as in the film – which was shot in and around the area in 1999.

Lee Hall said it was a pleasure to be back at the village community which spawned his story.

Easington Colliery Band at the final West End performance

“To be able to give something back is such a privilege,” he said. “What happened with the pits devastated lives and it’s important that we acknowledge that.

“People up here have such spirit and sense of humour. They have a specific way of looking at the world, and that’s what I wanted to pay homage to in my writing.”

Lee, from Newcastle, attended the final West End version of the musical on Saturday night, which featured a performance from Easington Colliery Band, who played Once We Were Kings and Abide with Me in an arrangement created especially for the performance.

“It was a fantastic evening. Easington Colliery Band played the show out for the final ten minutes and it was electrifying,” he said.  

“To hear them play was so moving, I don’t think there was a dry eye in the house. It was a very memorable night for all involved.”

Speaking about the touring version, which is running at Sunderland Empire until April 30, he said: “The kids in it are absolutely brilliant and it’s really exciting to have it here in the North East for the first time, we are thrilled.”

Malcolm Fallow, chief executive officer at East Durham Trust, said: “We are absolutely blown away by this fantastic gesture. The money will mean that vital support services for people in disadvantaged communities across the former East Durham Coalfield can continue and help more people. This isn’t just about the money, it’s also the message of solidarity and support that comes with it”

East Durham Trust is the flagship voluntary and community sector organisation for the East Durham area, established to counteract the effects of social and economic deprivation through community-based programmes.