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And now the pitwomen painters make their mark

Artists are blazing a regeneration trail. DAVID WHETSTONE finds out more

Artists are blazing a regeneration trail. DAVID WHETSTONE finds out more

THE pitmen painters of Ashington have become famous on both sides of the Atlantic but the female artists of the town will be in the spotlight this weekend.

Lee Hall’s play, The Pitmen Painters, recalls the art evening classes attended by Ashington men in the 1930s.

They used to gather in a wooden building they called the ‘Hut’ to work on paintings depicting local scenes, many of them dominated by the local pit.

Now, just one small letter and a stone’s throw away from where the Hut used to stand, is a new centre of cultural activity, the Hub.

It’s early days but Aidan Oswell, motivator, musician and a passionate supporter of North East culture, is keen to see the Community Hub at The Hirst, Ashington, becoming a 21st Century Hut for all. Aidan, who works part-time at Newcastle University and is on the board of Isos Housing, has been based in Ashington for the past three years working on grassroots community regeneration through his own private firm.

“It’s a long-term project but what we hope to do is develop a unique model of community regeneration,” he says.

“The area has suffered from post-industrial decline but what we’re keen to do, using the indigenous culture of Ashington, is generate some confidence, raising people’s aspirations and expectations.”

A steering group was set up in April 2010 which eventually became the management committee of the tenants and residents group, Target North Hirst, which now has 103 members.

Some grant money was secured from Northumberland County Council to refurbish a terraced house at The Hirst. It became the Community Hub and was opened last November by the Duchess of Northumberland who admired a proggy mat made by local people including Mary Johnson and Isabel Armstrong.

Reminiscent of the works by the pitmen painters, now on show at nearby Woodhorn, this permanent feature of the Community Hub shows local activities and scenes.

It records the fact that Isabel won first prize in a local leek show.

On Saturday evening two local artists, Alison Adams and Pam McSherry, who are also on the Target North Hirst management committee, will display their work before guests from different walks of life.

They will include artists, poets and musicians whom Aidan hopes will contribute to a cultural programme to further the regeneration of the area.

Already local supporters have taken part in litter clearing initiatives and helped to plant flowers on a traffic roundabout.

“I can tell you that some of the people I’ve met here are the grandest people you could meet,” he says.

Where the pitmen painters led, he is convinced others can follow.

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