Galloways Three Sisters event celebrates Wigan’s mining heritage

Chris Hulme at the wheel of his 2.5ltr. 1998 Porsche Boxster with Vinnie Chappell in the passenger

Chris Hulme at the wheel of his 2.5ltr. 1998 Porsche Boxster with Vinnie Chappell in the passenger seat - Credit: Pics; John Cocks

Digging deep for the miners

Galloways Sight Loss Charity outing to The Three Sisters Race Circuit

Galloways Sight Loss Charity outing to The Three Sisters Race Circuit - Credit: Pics; John Cocks

A group of blind and visually impaired people from across Lancashire followed in Lewis Hamilton's tyre tracks when they took part in an event at the Three Sisters race circuit.

As part of the day, organised by Penwortham-based charity Galloways, a fleet of Porsches, brought along by members of the Independent Porsche Enthusiasts' Club, gave high speed laps of the track and a huge truck offered tours at a more sedate pace around the neighbouring industrial estate. And Galloways service users were able to get behind the wheel of a car brought along by a local driving school.

Vinnie Chappell was among those who emerged beaming from a high-powered Porsche. He said: 'That was great. I loved it. I used to drive a Mark Two Jaguar - now that was a car! - and I get down to these events as often as I can. It's such a thrill.'

Chris Hulme, the regional organiser for TIPEC in Cheshire and Staffordshire who drove Vinnie around the track, said: 'We are privileged to have these machines and the freedoms we take for granted. It's good to be able to give something back and to see how much joy it gives.'

And James Coulton from Galloways: 'People say one of the things they miss most when they lose their sight is driving.

'We have people taking part who have been blind since birth and have never driven before, and some who have lost their sight and can no longer drive. For some, driving was a real passion and they are really pleased to be able to drive again.'

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And he added: 'We try to hold these events twice a year because we know how much it means to people. There are very few, if any, other events like this. Iceland let us have a truck for free and XPO Logistics provide the driver.

'When they get out of the cars, people have big grins on their faces - words can't capture the emotions they feel.'

Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button are among the established motorsport stars who honed their skills at the Wigan circuit and Operations Director Ian Makinson said: 'There's something going on here every day. Whether it's a charity event like this, or if drivers want to test their cars, or bikes, before a race and we also hold karting meetings and corporate events, so we have people of all ages on the track, from six-year-olds up.'

The circuit was created on the site of Garswood Hall Colliery and takes its name from a trio of huge slag heaps known as the Three Sisters.

The colliery was one of a number around the town - in the late 1800s Wigan had more than 1,000 pit shafts within five miles of the town centre.

Much of this old industrial land has now been re-greened and almost all relics of the town's mining heritage are gone. Now, members of the local history group are nearing the end of a three year campaign to have a statue erected near the town centre in memory of the thousands of men, women and children from around Wigan who worked in and around the pits.

Sheila Ramsdale formed the group with friend Anne Catterall and the pair hatched the plan together. 'Anne fell ill,' said Sheila. 'And when she was dying I promised her I'd get the statue.'

The group needed to raise about £120,000 and - thanks to two huge anonymous donations - they are now very close to the target and hope to have the statue installed next month.

It has been made by sculptor Steve Winterburn and will stand in College Square, off Millgate and just around the corner from the library where George Orwell worked on The Road to Wigan Pier (you didn't think we'd go to Wigan and not mention him, did you?)

'Lots of people here remember the mining industry and have done what they can to help,' Sheila added. 'We've had pensioners giving us their savings. We really need this statue as a memorial to all those people who worked in the industry, but also to tell our young people about their town's heritage.

'I have spoken to Wigan schoolchildren about this and I've met some who didn't know what a piece of coal was. We want everyone to know about Wigan's mining heritage and this statue will help with that.'

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