A chance encounter in a miners’ welfare club led to a County Durham man gaining a role in the latest film from an acclaimed director.

Steve Fergus, a trustee of the Easington Social Welfare Centre, received a call in 2022 asking if the centre could be used for auditions for a new Ken Loach film titled The Old Oak.

The centre had already been used as a location for films like Billy Elliot, so Mr Fergus happily obliged - but he had no idea that this opportunity would lead to his own appearance in the movie, as well as walking the red carpet at one of the premieres.

Mr Fergus is heavily involved in his community and was overseeing deliveries to the centre which go out to local food banks while The Old Oak auditions were taking place. Luckily for him, his impressive juggling of food deliveries got him noticed.

He said: “Someone from the production team was watching me and said was impressed with how I was juggling plates - but I said it came naturally to me because I worked in transport for Asda for 18 years, latterly as a transport manager.

“The next thing I know I was introduced to Ken Loach, and he told me he wanted me in his film. I subsequently discovered that the person watching me was the writer of the movie, Paul Laverty, who wrote a part for me based on what he had seen me doing.”

The Northern Echo: Steve Fergus, right and Ken Loach, left

Mr Fergus - who lives in a Durham Aged Mineworkers’ Homes Association home in Easington and used to be a board member of the association - was given the part of transport manager Finn who has one line in the film, but who also appears in background scenes throughout.

He added: “I had to say a line about food parcels having been received from Durham Cathedral and it only took me two takes - and that was only because there was light shining in my eyes on the first take, so they wanted to do another.

“I even got a round of applause which was amazing given I had never acted before in my life.

“It was an incredible experience seeing what goes into making a film like this and then being invited to walk the red carpet at the premiere in Durham. Seeing myself on screen and my name in the credits was something else.”

The Northern Echo: Released in the UK in September, the film was shot in the North East

Released in the UK in September, The Old Oak centres around the story of pub landlord TJ Ballantyne, who is struggling to hold onto his pub in a previously thriving mining community. A reality many in County Durham have lived, and can understand.

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In the film, tensions rise when Syrian refugees are placed in the community, and the story takes a different direction when Ballantyne strikes up a friendship with one of the refugees.

Ken Loach has also indicated this could very well be his last film. 

Shot in the North East, filming began in May 2022 and took place over six weeks. Some of the locations used in County Durham included Murton, Horden, Easington and Durham Cathedral.

The disused pub previously known as The Victoria in Murton also became The Old Oak during filming.