Wigan Diggers’ festival comes to life

The sun shone down on Wigan as a free festival run by volunteers keen to keep the memory of Gerald Winstanley alive, returned to the town earlier this September.

The Wigan Diggers’ Festival celebrates the life and ideas of Wigan born Gerrard Winstanley, founder of The Diggers movement of agrarian communists who advocated the communal cultivation of common land. Gerrards revolutionary statement that ‘The Earth is a common treasury for all’ became a challenge to the 17th Century establishment, and was eventually suppressed.

The annual event is organised by a dedicated team of trade union and activist volunteers. One of the team is Damian Liptrot, who said, “(Winstanley’s) ideas have influenced many significant thinkers and gives weight to the claim that Wigan can proudly claim to be one of the birthplaces of Socialism and the fight for a more fair and equal society.”

Two stages were packed with music and poetry from the likes of Headsticks, Jess Silk, Commoners Choir, John D Revelator, Carol Hodge and many more.

But, as Damian explained, “The festival is also about the exchange of ideas, with many stalls offering an insight into their world view, as well as fringe events at The Museum of Wigan Life and the Parish church.”

This year the speakers included acclaimed filmmaker, Ken Loach, Ben Kinmont discussing the radical 1960s California Diggers and local activist Lisa Croft introducing Wigan’s links to The International Brigade.

The Unite North West Service Industries Branch were kept very busy with their stall at the Festival.

Branch Secretary Chris Neville said, “We are a very active branch in the wider labour movement and often have stalls at events.”

“In terms of Wigan Diggers, we find it to be one of the best events in the North West and wanted to ensure our union had a presence but also use it as an opportunity for our branch members to get together.”

Their presence was a chance to raise Unites profile locally, talk to the public and recruit new members.

Chris explained, “There were a lot of good discussions with attendees, including people who were interested in joining the union and we handed quite a few membership applications out.

“We also raised a couple of hundred quid for local strike funds by selling commemorative Unite Wigan Diggers t-shirts that we had specially printed for this year’s event.”

Chris added, “We will definitely be there again next year and would encourage other branches to ensure they have a presence either there or at similar events in their area to keep the flag flying for Unite.”

The 2023 Wigan Diggers’ Festival was a fantastic event full of sun, sounds and socialism – and you can imagine Gerrard Winstanley looking down pleased that, nearly 375 years after he formed the Diggers, people are still standing up and demanding equality for all.

Pictured above are Chris Neville (Branch Secretary) and Kenny Watson (Branch Chair)

Words and pics by Keith Hatch