Durham in early March might be cold, wet and windy, but that didn't deter hundreds turning out to celebrate the women who “gave striking miners their backbone”.

It is four decades since working pitmen downed tools in the ultimately doomed attempt to prevent widespread colliery closures across the County Durham coalfield.

With hungry mouths to feed, women played a vital role in strengthening the resolve of the striking miners, who were torn between putting food on the table and the long-term struggle to maintain their livelihoods.

Today (Saturday, March 2), activists young and old took to the streets of Durham City to remember the rich history of the county’s coalfield – and the women who helped sustain it.

The Northern Echo: Today's Women's Rally, celebrating the women behind the Miner's Strike on its 40th anniversary.

Miner's daughter Heather Wood organised free cafes for striking men and their families in Easington, where she lived with her husband, John.

Alongside other lynchpins of the Miner’s Strike of 1984-85, Heather led the Women’s Rally down the cobbled streets of the historic city.

Heather said: “I’m here because I want women to be heard! The strike changed these women.

“I am not saying what they were doing previously was unimportant - homekeeping is very important - but they learned that they could, if they wanted, do so much more.”

Co-organiser Maureen James added: “It’s all about female empowerment. We’ve had people travel over from America, Germany, Holland, France, Ireland, Scotland, Wales.

The Northern Echo:

“I’m really surprised at how many younger ones have turned out too – I was amazed at how many were aware of the struggle the women had during the strike. They have come out in their droves.

“I still remember a man coming back from Orgreave. I have never seen fear like I saw on that man’s face - lest we forget. Never forgive, never forget.”

For many, the devastation that came from pit closures is still felt sorely. Communities left destitute when the local pit closed often fell into mass unemployment and poverty – and some remain the most deprived communities in the UK.

Heather, Maureen, and other members of the National Women Against Pit Closures group have worked to organise the event for over a year – fundraising, rallying, and getting the word out amongst communities.

The Northern Echo:

The women marched, followed by men from Durham Miners’ Association, from the cathedral down the historic cobbled streets. They started with a rousing rendition of Gresford, the Miners’ Hymn, from the NAS/UWT Riverside Brass Band.

The parade made its way down Elvet Bridge to the Swan and Three Cygnets where the participants danced along to ‘Sweet Caroline’, from the brass band, and sang the anthemic strike song, ‘Women of the Working Class’.

Navigating miner’s banners through the cobbled, serpentine Durham streets is difficult – they are large, a little unruly, and can catch a gust of wind like nothing else - but the sense of honour and integrity is palpable. County Durham stands in debt to striking miners - and the women who succoured them.

Mary Stratford, who was an activist during the strike and helped to run Lumley Miner’s Support group: “We fundraised, we organised food parcels, we joined together with other groups, supported families and helped them with welfare rights, right through the strike.”

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“We started off thinking it'd be a small event – but so many people have asked if they could join in too. It's just wonderful, it’s wonderful to come together as women after all this time, celebrate what we achieved then, and hopefully inspire the next generation of activists now.

Joe Solo, a musician and activist, at the behest of Heather, wrote and performed his original song “Rich History” specifically for today’s march – memorialising the women who gave their all to keep County Durham picket lines fed forty years ago.

Four decades on, these women’s pride in their actions and activism; their history and their heritage, shines through. Children with noses pressed against café windows stare out as colour banners stomp past – already feeling the strong identity that makes their county special.