It was the biggest public campaign Huddersfield has ever seen … and was ultimately successful.
When health chiefs controversially announced in January 2016 that Huddersfield Royal Infirmary and its A&E would close, the people of Huddersfield reacted decisively and with amazing determination to keep both open.
They set up a campaign called Hands Off HRI which became legendary. As many as 8,000 people turned out for a mass rally in St George’s Square on February 27 2016.
Now a book – called ‘Fighting from the Heart’ – is out which tells the story, written by those who led the campaign, and they hope it will be seen as a blueprint on how to fight other controversial cuts such as leisure centres and old people’s homes.
Author Cormac Kelly, a former history teacher at Salendine Nook High School, said: “The struggle to keep Huddersfield Royal Infirmary and its A&E open was the biggest continuous civilian mobilisation in the town in well over a century.
“I felt the struggle to keep HRI open was significant and involved so many people that I suggested there had to be a record in writing it for future generations. I volunteered to write the book and it was certainly a story worth writing about.
“As the organisers often repeated ‘it’s only a done deal if you do nowt’. You must campaign if you want to save anything in this town.”
Cormac added that many people have been involved in writing the book, especially the committee who ran the campaign including Mike Forster, Cristina George and Steve Slator.
Cormac (above) said: “I wrote an initial draft, interviewing lots of people involved at the time, and then committee members added information, researched and made suggestions. We put a call out for photos and eventually completed it.
“It took over two years to write because I was keen that as many people as possible who were involved in the campaign contributed. I also wanted an accurate account and that took time.”
Cormac said people power is vital and fears controversial health plans may make a comeback in Huddersfield.
“There will never be a complete victory,” he said. “The fight to keep maternity services in Huddersfield was lost in the past and the old St Luke’s Hospital closed over 10 years ago.
“The A&E was moved from Dewsbury to Pinderfields in Wakefield so some fights were lost. But we won this one and there is a brand new A&E building although ‘blue light emergencies’ still have to go to Calderdale Royal Hospital.
“Undoubtedly, during Covid lives were saved because HRI was kept open. There must be eternal vigilance and the fine tradition of opposing closures in the health service in Huddersfield will undoubtedly continue.”
The blurb on the book states: “When the local health trust planned to close and demolish Huddersfield Royal Infirmary, along with its vital A&E, the citizens of Huddersfield rallied under the big blue banner of Hands off HRI in a powerful five-year campaign of civil resistance, mass demonstrations, countless fundraisers and campaign splits alongside lobbies of Parliament, dissection of the Trust’s closure plans and, finally, an ambitious legal challenge.
“Told by a veteran campaigner, this is the inside story of the battle for their hospital by the activists of Hands Off HRI and the people of Huddersfield.”
The book is dedicated to “all those people of Huddersfield and beyond who gave so generously of their time, money and skills in support of the campaign to save Huddersfield Royal Infirmary, in honour too of the many campaigners from across the country still fighting for their NHS services and of the 1.27 million dedicated people working in the NHS.”
Copies of the book, which costs £8, are available from Handmade in Huddersfield in the Imperial Arcade and Newstrack at Huddersfield Railway Station. They can also be bought directly from Cormac by emailing him at email@example.com
Written by ANDY HIRST who runs his own Yorkshire freelance journalism agency AH! PR (https://ah-pr.com/) specialising in press releases, blogging, website content and copywriting. Main image by: Mike Forster. Image of HRI entrance by: Andy Hirst.