This week has been all about celebrating women and the progress that has been made for gender equality. However, most people have been celebrating celebrities, but what about looking a bit closer to home?
Brenda Proctor was a local woman who started out as your average miner’s wife, which all changed when the miner’s strike hit Stoke-on-Trent, potentially leaving hundreds of people without jobs. People began to strike, protesting against the pit closures and appealing against the government decision to strip people of their livelihood.
Brenda joined forces with a group of other women, which was the beginning of the North Staffs Miners Wives group.
The group came together when Brenda called a meeting at a local pit club and within weeks, the National Women Against Pit Closures campaign was launched. The wives, sisters, daughters and mothers of miner’s joined together to decide what to do, which led to rallies, talks and radical movements.
In May 1984, 5,000 women from all over the country attended a rally in Barnsley. A few weeks later 23,000 miners wives marched through London. All over the country, women were getting arrested on picket lines and many chained themselves to colliery gates which were due to be closed.
Brenda’s son, Ryan Proctor, said: “She did a lot of campaigning, but she probably first became active during the strike. She made a lot of connections with trade unions which I think kick-started what she went on to do.”
One of the most radical things Brenda did, was to conduct the occupation of the Trentham Colliery with Bridget Bell and Gina Earl, with Rose Hunter maintaining communication from outside. The women were down there for four days, with many people trespassing to try and get food and water down to them. Many people believed they were coaxed to leave by Arthur Scargill, leader of the National Union of Mine-workers when actually, they had always planned to leave when they did. No-one told these ladies what to do, they did things by their own rules.
Whilst she was down there, Brenda broke her nose when a bolt fell from above. Ryan spoke of the occupation and the incident, saying “It did serve a great purpose. There were film crews there every day and it made a lot more people aware of the struggle.
“They had no toilet, no access to water, no hot drinks or anything like that. The British Colliery wanted to starve them out and they wanted to do everything they could to stop us from getting supplies down to them. There were that many of us, that we overwhelmed them.
“My mother broke her nose quite early on. It didn’t deter her though, as she had a strong character and she stayed in there for the full-time. They wouldn’t allow medical access or anything.”
Contrary to what was normal in those days, Brenda completely bent gender stereotypes. Before the strike, she was a typical housewife staying at home, feeding the kids and doing housework, whilst her husband, Ken, worked in the pits.
During the strike, her husband was one of the miners who joined it, meaning that he was at home a lot more. When Ryan was younger, there were some days that he wouldn’t see his father due to shift work.
“There were days where he’d still be in bed from the late shift. When we went to school and by the time we came home, he’d be back at work until ten, when we’d be in bed.”
Things changed during the strike and Brenda was out of the house more often. However, she often juggled the campaign with family life, taking her children to rallies with her, which sparked Ryan’s dedication to the cause.
Unfortunately Brenda died in 2017, leaving a legacy behind her. Comparing women like Brenda to the kind of women people are looking up to now, Ryan said: “Some celebrities are in a privileged position and I think they could use their elevated status to speak about issues. Some do, but I think we live in a celebrity society.
“I do think that people like my mum, those before her and those after her, with some of the things they’ve done like spending their lives campaigning for issues, making life better for other people, do deserve some recognition.”
Ryan also said that he hopes the new generation are inspired by people like Brenda, as people from his generation have already told him how much his mother has inspired them.
It’s time to start celebrating local heroes, and how could it get any better than with a woman like Brenda?