A new project of photography and stories from Washington Miners has been developed titled ‘Coal Face’.

What is Coal Face?

Coal Face is a project which uses visual tintype portraiture by Sunderland photographer Andy Martin and biographies and verbatim poems created by Dr Louise Powell. These capture the last generation of Washington Miners‘ memories and sense of belonging in a changing coalfield community.

Who funded the Coal Face project?

Funded by Redhills, The Cultural Spring and University College London (UCL),

What does the Coal Face project explore?

Coal Face recorded visually and verbally the stories of ex-miners and NCB workers who recalled the era when the pits were still open and operational. The themes explored examined the layering of place in an area where half a dozen pit villages had the superstructure of a new town imposed on top.   

The project outcomes were curated in an exhibition open to the public at Washington F Pit for the whole of September 2023. 

The Coal Face exhibition coincided with annual heritage open days, for which Washington F Pit opens to the public. Despite officially closing as a pit in 1968, F Pit remains a fascinating historical attraction for locals and tourists wishing to learn about Sunderland’s coal mining heritage. 

A publication that consolidated the project’s visual and written outcomes, with a foreword by Professor John Tomaney, was also created and launched during the F Pit exhibition period. The 136-page document is a beautifully curated book that tells the ex-miners’ stories through visual portraiture, biographies and verbatim poems written by Dr Powell after listening to each man who participated in the project. A podcast was then developed to combine all project elements in audio to bring the stories to life.

The ex-miners and coal board workers of Washington who participated in the Coal Face project came together for a private view.

Why did the funders get involved in the project?

Nick Malyan, Chief Executive of The Redhills Charity, said: “Washington and Sunderland are integral parts of the former Durham Coalfield, so we’re delighted to be working with not only a brilliant Sunderland photographer in Andy Martin but partnering with The Cultural Spring and Sunderland Culture to deliver an exhibition that is rooted so firmly in the people, culture and heritage of the area.“

Emma Horsman, Project Director of The Cultural Spring, added: “We are thrilled to have been able to support such a fascinating exhibition in such a wonderful venue. It’s so important to recognise the role mining had in shaping our region and paying tribute to the last generation of Washington miners in this way will help keep our heritage alive for future generations.”

How do we find out more about Coal Face?

The exhibition was open from 4th September until 30th September 12pm-3pm Monday until Saturday (closed on Sundays). Visiting was free and no booking was required.

The project book is available to buy through the Redhills website through our online store for £15 including postage and packaging by clicking here.

A podcast was created as the culmination of the Washington project, perfectly curated by Dr Louise Powell