NORTH Eastern Co-op are among the main sponsors of Saturday's (July 12th) historic Durham Miners Gala, which organisers predict will be one of biggest in recent years.
Police estimates put the crowds at last year's 118th Gala around the 50,000 mark, but co-ordinator George Robson says a continuing burgeoning of interest in the area's mining heritage and traditions should ensure an even bigger turn-out this time.
It's now ten years since the last Durham pit closed, but says Mr Robson, local people are determined not to let the famous "Big Meeting" die.
The Co-op's £ 3,000 donation to the Durham Miners Association will be used to hire some of the 30-plus bands who will parade through the streets of Durham City with around 50 miners' banners plus dozens of others representing the wider labour and trade union movement.
"We are very grateful to the Co-op for their support for the fifth year running," said Mr Robson. "The cost of bringing in bands on the day can be quite expensive and, of course, brass and pipe bands are a vital ingredient of the Gala's enduring appeal.
"The interest in the Gala this year is absolutely amazing. Local communities are becoming more aware of their history and heritage and just won't let the event die. Banner restoration groups are springing up all the time and, where banners are in too poor a condition to be restored, people are setting about raising funds to commission replicas.
"Lots of community-led organisations will be involved on Saturday and, with the return of the big adult fun fair and if the weather is kind to us, there could be more than 60,000 in Durham for the Gala."
North Eastern & Cumbria Co-op Secretary Steve Warren told the News that the society's own banner will be carried in the parade while local Woodcraft Folk and Co-op Party branches have also been invited to participate.
The Co-op will also have a stand promoting Fairtrade produce at the old racecourse where speakers include veteran Labour MP Dennis Skinner, ASLEF's Mick Rix, Kevin Curran of the GMB and Andy Gilchrist, General Secretary of the Fire Brigades Union.