A bold undertaking
In France, it came as a surprise. Hundreds of articles and reports were published to hail this unexpected inscription of a territory with such a poor image. It owes its success primarily to a handful of pioneers, mustered by Jean-François Caron, mayor of Loos-en-Gohelle, instigator of this daring project. Visionaries convinced of the need to recognise the material and cultural value of mining heritage, to make it a source of pride for inhabitants, and to forge a new reputation for the territory. Bassin Minier Uni (United Mining Basin), the organisation in charge of drawing up the technical section of the candidature file, brought together all the stakeholders in 2002, with an illustrious patron to chair the Support Committee, former Prime Minister Pierre Mauroy.
Delegations from India, Botswana, New Zealand, Mexico, and indeed from all over the world, met on 30 June 2012, amid the splendour of the Tavritcheski Palace in Saint Petersburg, Russia. The Mining Basin delegation was led by the French ambassador to UNESCO behind the « France » banner. A brief illustration of facts and figures, drawn up from 2003 to 2010, was presented to assert the candidature. A 1,450-page tome weighing 7 kilos! Just before 7.00 pm, the decision was announced with the knock of the Chair’s hammer at the 36th World Heritage Committee meeting: « With respect to the Nord-Pas de Calais Mining Basin candidature for France, no objections have been raised, it has thus been approved! » Excitement was at fever pitch in Saint Petersburg, as in Loos-en-Gohelle where the most fervent supporters of the candidature had gathered.
Jean-François Caron begins his very moving speech which resounds even today.
I simply say: THANK YOU.
Thank you for your vote,
Thank you to all those who contributed to this wonderful adventure for 10 years,
Thank you in the name of all the miners and their families.
To be inscribed on the List is not a detail of our history, it is OUR history.
Our landscapes are not made of pink granite, crystal-clear seas or endless snowy peaks.
In our land, man dug, extracted and built mountains.
The idea that history of miners is as valuable as history of kings changes everything.
Our history is built on human values such as courage, simplicity and solidarity.
Our history triggered vast migratory movements, 29 nationalities came to work in our land and have enriched the culture of our territory.
Mining activity developed a very strong working-class consciousness as in all the mining countries around the world. I pay tribute to them today.
This inscription celebrates all mining communities and grants them pride, dignity and self-confidence.
May this UNESCO recognition stimulate solidarity and cooperation between mining countries and communities all around the world.
Once again, THANK YOU.
For ten years, stakeholders such as the specialist organisations (the Mining Basin Mission, the Historic Mining Centre in Lewarde and the local centre for environmental initiatives « Chaîne des terrils« ), the government departments in charge of the project, and the relevant local authorities were all kept busy compiling inventories and conducting studies on all candidature themes. This institutional dynamic also received popular support from the outset, from the « Bassin Minier Uni » clubs. Starting in 2003, these groups of enthusiastic volunteers mushroomed in the towns, taking it upon themselves to raise awareness of the inscription procedure among their fellow citizens via various initiatives.