Picture of the Easington Social Welfare Centre in Easington CollieryNorthern Souls - Going Down The Welly was a community project led by Creative Lives On Air, working in partnership with Easington Social Welfare Centre in Peterlee, County Durham and BBC Radio Tees.

Read on to find out more about this powerful, community-focussed project - and then listen to the wonderful stories captured below . . .

Easington Welfare Centre, or ‘The Welly’ as it’s affectionately known to the residents of Peterlee in Country Durham, has long been a hub of creativity and social interaction. Providing a much-needed distraction from the stresses of pit closures, the Centre offered friendship and support when it was needed most. Thirty years later, The Welly is still at the heart of the local community, with regular events and activities drawing people through its doors.

Born out of a partnership between Creative Lives and BBC Radio Tees, and funded by Historic England, ‘Going Down The Welly’ aimed to capture some of the fond memories of this well-loved building as well as highlighting its importance as a local venue today. Producer, Rachel Teate spoke to twelve Easington locals about their relationship to The Welly, from those who knew it as children to volunteers who ensure its continued survival.

The interviews demonstrate how the Centre played a key role in Easington’s history, and capture the fun and creativity to be found at weekly sessions held at The Welly today, such as ‘Knit and Natter’.

“This project shines a light on how important everyday creativity is, and seeks to uncover the stories that would otherwise be lost,” says Jess Plant, England Director of Creative Lives. “The partnership between BBC Radio Tees and Creative Lives has allowed these stories to be shared in an accessible way, while also assuring they are cemented in time. The Welly provides a piece of vital history, and the stories from the pit, the miners and the volunteers showcase how necessary groups like this are for capturing shared history in a creative environment.”

To hear highlights from some of these fascinating stories, told by the people who lived them, click on the links below: 

Northern Souls - Going Down the Welly Ep 3: https://bbc.in/3KQSMe8

A school clerk who grew up in Easington, and returned to her place of education to work, told us: “My heart is in Easington. I love it and that’s why I come to The Welfare Centre."

Northern Souls - Going Down the Welly Ep 4: https://bbc.in/3LhcDEA

A lady who grew up by the colliery recounts the good and bad aspects of life around the pits, telling stories of lost loved ones but also fun times dancing at The Welly with friends. 

Northern Souls - Going Down the Welly Ep 6: https://bbc.in/3mT2vbV

President of Durham Miners society, Alan Cummings, tells us why The Welly is vital for people’s everyday wellbeing. He says “It's critically important that we keep this building open,” because the creative groups that come in are a focal point for people’s mental health. 

A theme running throughout each episode, is the importance of dancing. Many people had their first dancing lesson at The Welly aged 14, and 60 years later they still attend each week. The opportunities to be creative that came their way while the pit was open was a shining light that helped them make friends for life, learn a new skill, and escape from stress. A longer-form documentary showcasing the history of Easington, also produced by BBC Radio Tees and Creative Lives, is due out in May.