THIS time next week, Durham will welcome the long overdue return of the Durham Miners’ Gala. For two successive summers, the second Saturday of July has been a far quieter affair with the annual “Big Meeting” cancelled due to the pandemic.

Around 200,000 people are expected to descend upon Durham. Brass will echo through the city’s winding streets as silken banners sway up high. Friends, family and communities from the Durham coalfield and beyond will reunite beneath them, some probably for the first time since lockdown.

The first post pandemic gala will undoubtedly be poignant. A moment to remember the friends and loved ones no longer marching by our side. Absent, but not forgotten.

Vitally, however, at this year’s gala we will not forget those who toiled to keep public services and vital industry moving during the darkest hours of Covid: the nation's key workers. I am immensely proud as the city’s MP that at the first opportunity after the pandemic, the organisers have dedicated this gala to the millions of workers in healthcare, education, shops, transport services and many more whom we all relied upon.

Nominated representatives of rank-and-file key workers will take to the balcony of the County Hotel and speak to the crowds from the famous platform on the Racecourse.

At the height of the pandemic, this country regularly came together on a Thursday evening to show gratitude for the risk these workers exposed themselves to in order to keep society moving. We cannot forget their bravery and sacrifice, particularly as so many of these pandemic heroes are now being handed pay cuts in the face of a cost of living crisis.

They are being abandoned and forgotten by the very same Government ministers who previously offered warm words of gratitude.

As energy bills and food prices skyrocket, it is sadly those at the bottom that the Government expect to bear the burden. But it doesn’t have to be this way…

The pandemic offered a rare moment of clarity about how our economy values key workers. Importantly, it also presents an opportunity for renewal of the gala 28 years after the last pit closed. Building upon the past, with one eye fixed on the future, the Durham Miners’ Association (DMA) are rightly ensuring the societal problems of the present are centre stage at this Gala.

The “Big Meeting” will always be a celebration of the proud traditions of the Trade Union and Labour movement of the past. Each year, banner follows banner encapsulating our region’s rich mining heritage and the political achievements that were hard won by the key figures and communities who came together and fought for them.

However, the DMA’s motto is “The past we inherit. The future we build” and it is in that spirit that those in attendance will be joining together next weekend. To celebrate our historical inheritance but also to stand in solidarity and call for a better tomorrow whereby key workers are given the reward for their heroic work.

I am confident the Durham Miners’ Gala will be bigger and better than ever this year! To keep this proud working-class tradition going I’d encourage everyone to become an official “Marra” to ensure the Gala survives, thrives and, most importantly, is here to inspire generations to come.

You can support the Gala by becoming an official “Marra” online