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Canvassing for the pitmen painters

As Lee Hall's hit play The Pitmen Painters reopens in Newcastle before a run at the National Theatre in London, there is doubt that the famous Ashington Group of miners, who won fame by challenging the art world with their portrayals of mining life in the 1930s, would ever have made it to their first paint brush today.

The Ashington Group was composed largely of pitmen who tried their hands at painting while attending art appreciation classes, under the guidance of Newcastle tutor Robert Lyon. The classes were organised by the Workers' Educational Association in the mid-1930s.

Their story has been recreated by Lee Hall who wrote Billy Elliot. It played to packed houses at Newcastle's Live Theatre last autumn.

But there is fear that cutbacks in funding for adult education make it less likely that similar art groups could emerge today.

More than a million adults have disappeared from adult learning over the past two years because of course closures and rising fees. It is a problem that hugely concerns the present day Workers' Educational Association.

Nigel Todd North East regional director, Workers' Educational Association, Jesmond, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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