Local young people have got hands on with their heritage as they begin the restoration and renewal of Redhills, Durham Miners Hall.

The removal of the famous seats in The Pitman’s Parliament at Redhills is the first stage in the multimillion-pound project, clearing the way for vital underground structural work. The seats will be restored and returned to the historic home of the Durham miners. 

Working on the project are more than a dozen young people from social enterprise Woodshed Workshop. The organisation works with socially and economically disadvantaged young people as well as adults with additional needs and isolated older people. Based in the old Co-operative buildings in Sacriston, it provides opportunities and support in developing skills and confidence and gaining qualifications.

Woodshed founder and director is woodworker Nathan Hopkins said working at Redhills is a great opportunity for the young people.

It is important for the young people working here to know what this place is about – it is their heritage. 

And they are not just visiting Redhills, they are taking part in what is happening here. It is a great experience and opportunity for them – and they’ve been telling their mates all about it. 

In the future, they will look at Redhills and be able to say ‘I was there, and I did that’. They will be part of it, and that is something you just can’t measure.”

Nathan Hopkins, Director, Woodshed Workshop

Guided by experienced woodworkers such as Nathan, the young people have been tasked with the painstaking job of carefully removing and dismantling the Austrian oak seats that have been part of the Grade II-listed council chamber since Redhills opened in 1915.

Elected delegates from communities across the Durham coalfield gathered there for generations, earning the chamber the popular name ‘The Pitman’s Parliament.’ From Redhills the delegates helped create a pioneering social system across County Durham before the advent of the national welfare state.

Following the removal of the seats, the young people will be provided further opportunities to return for ‘experience days’ at Redhills, working alongside other trades on the restoration of Redhills to further develop their skills.

With the support of the National Lottery Heritage Fund, Durham County Council and others, Redhills is undergoing a £7.5million redevelopment as a centre for culture, heritage and education.

We want to ensure that local people benefit as much as possible from the investment in Redhills. Kicking off the project in this way ensures that we are supporting a wonderful local enterprise in giving young people a hands on role in their own heritage. They are doing an excellent job.”

Nick Malyan, Redhills Programme Director

The removal of the seats is a vital first step in the restoration of the Miners Hall. The floor will then be removed to enable underground structural work including the installation of a new ventilation system. It is also a necessary part of a scheme to install high quality wireless broadband throughout the building. 

Opened on 23 October 1915 as the purpose-built headquarters of the Durham Miners Association (DMA), Redhills was funded by more than 150,000 working miners. 

From Redhills, the DMA provided education, sickness and unemployment benefits, retirement homes, medical care, community centres, libraries, sports fields and more. This helped provide a platform for the people of the county and a distinct and vibrant culture flourished.

In October 2021, the DMA handed ownership of Redhills to a new charity constituted to serve as the stewards of the Miners Hall on behalf of the public.

Now closed for renovation, the historic hall will be fully restored and the addition of new buildings with modern facilities will enable Redhills to improve accessibility and offer a wide-ranging programme of activities and community resources. The renewed Redhills will use cutting-edge audio-visual technology to bring to life the rich history of the DMA, the people and the communities of the Durham coalfield.

The renewed Redhills is due to reopen to the public in Spring 2023.