Peter in Sheffield July 1984 with Arthur Scargill
Peter Heathfield died yesterday. Above all he was a kind, open and pleasant person who was always a pleasure to meet. He was also a committed socialist who cared deeply for the well-being of NUM members and of the communities they lived in.
He had studied Industrial Relations, Politics and Economics on a three year day release course for Derbyshire Miners which was run by the Sheffield University Extramural Department. I arrived as a tutor on these courses some years later. But I got to know Peter well in his period as Secretary of the Derbyshire NUM from 1973 to 1984. This arose mainly because he had a deep interest in the nature of our classes and the progress of its members. Along with our children, my wife Ann and I regularly attended the Derbyshire Miners' Weekend School which was held annually at Skegness at Easter. The miner's always asked tough questions and made blunt contributions. Peter was very much at home with the dialectics of debate.
Peter was invariably present at Labour Movement events in North Derbyshire at this time, being a regular and carefully listened to speaker at each Chesterfield May Day Rally. He would have enjoyed the Rally which took place only the day before his death. Amongst the events was a film on the impact of the 84-85 Miners' Strike in North Derbyshire. I only wish that he had been well enough to have participate by being in front of the camera.
Both Peter and his first wife Betty are best known for their roles in the strike. Peter as the General Secretary of the NUM and Betty for the leading work she undertook in the Women's Movement who played a crucial role in supporting the miners. But there was much more to them than the matters which hit the headlines.
Prior to the strike one of Betty's commitments had been with the Woodcraft Folk. My wife Ann attended the groups activities in Chesterfield for a year, before moving on to help in setting up a local group where we live.
Peter was invariably present with the NUM delegation at the numerious Labour Party Conferences which Ann and I attended. He was a regular at Irish Evenings which were run under a flag of convenience by the Workers' Party. He was the only person they ever asked to speak, everyone one else sang songs or played tin whistles.
When he divorced and remarried and moved to North Anston in Yorkshire I visited him in the home he had set up with Sue and then addressed his local Labour Party.
I last saw him just over a year ago at a packed meeting at the NUM headquarters at Barnsley. Arthur Scargill was the main speaker and we were there for the 25th Anniversary of the strike. Peter was in the audience and his health was clearly fading. But it was good to see him again. When it was pointed out to a packed crowd that he was sitting in the audience, his reception matched that of Arthur's.
I first met Peter in the former Derbyshire Miners' Offices in Chesterfield. I last came across him at what had previously been the Yorkshire Miners' Offices at Barnsley. These are places that as a tutor on Miners' Course over a period of two decades, helped to shape much of my life. The debt which I and many others owe to Peter is something we should never forget. To pay that debt we should act on the principles he propounded. It is what he would have wanted.