Grandson releases book charting Hebburn grandmother's environmental campaign over Monkton Coke Works

A grandson has released a new book telling the story of how his grandmother relentlessly campaigned for environmental justice.

Gianfranco Rosolia wrote ‘Clean Air’ about his grandmother Jennie Shearan, who united and empowered the community to fight against the pollution her neighbourhood was forced to endure from Monkton Coke Works in Hebburn.

Jennie spent her life campaigning for her community. She died in 2005, and would have turned 100 next month.

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Gianfranco said he was inspired to tell the story of how Jennie transformed from a Hebburn house wife to a remarkable environmentalist.

Hebburn Residents Action Group

The book tells the story of people who lived on the doorstep of the coking plant from 1953 to 1990, and endured ‘hazardous and acrid sulphur dioxide emissions, all-pervading soot, and clamorous tannoys’.

Over decades, the facility grew, converting ever-increasing quantities of coal into coke.

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Gianfranco said in forming the Hebburn Residents’ Action Group, Jennie brought together the residents of Monkton Lane Estate, and gave them a voice, igniting a national dialogue about the health risks from the pollution that her neighbourhood had to endure.

He said while the events in the book took place in the North East of England more than thirty years ago, there is a timeless and universal resonance to the challenges that Jennie had to overcome throughout her campaign.

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Jennie collecting soil samples for pollution testing

Gianfranco said his grandmother battled a big energy organisation, governmental bodies, and institutional sexism. She also took on all levels of authority from British Coal to Thatcher’s government, eventually bringing her case all the way to the European Parliament.

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Her fight ultimate saw Monkton Coke Works close in 1990. It was demolished in 1992.

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Speaking about the book, grandson Gianfranco who grew up in the North East but now lives in Los Angeles, said: “Throughout her arduous journey, Jennie was brave, steadfast and sincere, demonstrating a level of resourcefulness and tenacity that would inspire any leader, the capacity to corral a group around a single-minded vision that any politician could learn from, and a degree of resilience that can energise us all.

Gianfranco Rosolia
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“CLEAN AIR illustrates the countless sacrifices and bold choices that Jennie made, the effectiveness of grassroots activism and people power, and the beauty of leaving behind a better world for future generations.

“Jennie Shearan and the Hebburn Residents’ Action Group deeply loved their community. They put their heart and spirit into improving the lives of ordinary people. Their redoubtable efforts left a deeply positive and long-lasting legacy, giving thousands of people hope for a stronger and healthier future and transforming their quality of life.

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"To continue their good work, all proceeds from CLEAN AIR will go directly to three charities that represent what Jennie was fighting for: Hebburn Helps, Friends of the Earth, The Environmental Law Foundation.”

The book is available in paperback and ebook (both £9.99), and hardcover and audiobook (£15.99). For further details, visit: https://linktr.ee/clean_air_book.

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Jennie at Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Pollution

Gianfranco will be visiting South Tyneside next month for a talk and book signings:

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:: Wednesday, November 23, at 6pm at Hebburn Library, Glen Street, Hebburn NE31 1AB.

:: Saturday, November 26, at 2pm at The Word, Market Place, South Shields, NE33 1JF.