Metal sculptor Ray Lonsdale creates new mining artwork for former mine site

A taste has been given of a stunning centerpiece for a new development in a former mining town.

Metal sculptor Ray Lonsdale, the creator of the famous ‘Tommy’ soldier statue on Seaham seafront, has been commissioned to produce a centerpiece paying homage to the industrial heritage of the former site of Houghton Colliery, Houghton -the-Spring.

With funding from Sunderland City Council’s Coalfield Area Committee, the miner’s giant helmet was produced at Mr Lonsdale’s Two Red Rubber Things studio in South Hetton.

The finished piece will feature in a larger commercial development on the former mine site.

Councilor Kevin Johnston, a member of the city council’s cabinet, is also on the committee that commissioned the piece.

He, along with Houghton Ward Councilor Juliana Heron, visited the studio to review the progress of the project, which will be completed over the next few months.

It is not known, however, when it will be possible to install the work of art in its permanent location.

Work on the wider development of the former mine site is expected to begin later this year, with a number of environmental studies still ongoing requiring surveys to be carried out over the summer months.

The consulting firm agreed to sell the former mine site in 2019.

It has remained undeveloped since the pit closed after its 158-year lifespan in September 1981.

Plans drawn up by acquirers Fintry Estates and Hellens Group were approved last year.

Read more: Proposed retail park development for former Houghton Colliery site

It will include a Tesco supermarket and a unit occupied by popular discount brand Home Bargains.

Together, the two stores are expected to create around 100 new jobs.

The sculpture will stand nearby as a permanent tribute to Houghton’s mining past.

Cllr Johnston said: ‘It is a poignant tribute to the town’s industrial heritage and a piece that I am truly proud that we have been able to offer to the people of Houghton, whose past is very important to them.

“He looks fantastic, and we look forward to working with council officers to agree a plan for his installation.”

The sculpture, visible from the end of Newbottle Street, the city’s main shopping street, depicts the end of coal mining, depicting people hanging up their gear for the last time.

Cllr Heron said: ‘This important site is in the process of being brought back into use and ensuring that we have a suitable focal point for visitors which celebrates the area’s past is something I am really delighted to see moving forward.

“Ray is an amazing artist and his work on this sculpture is beautiful.

“We’ve seen the reaction to Ray’s existing artwork across the city and the wider region, and we’re sure this piece will touch people the same way.”

Hellens Group is investigating the possibility of lighting as part of the technical specification for the installation of the artwork, to ensure it continues to have an impact at night.

Mr Lonsdale has also been commissioned by council to deliver three new rooms for the Riverside Sunderland development in the town centre, one of which, Gan Canny, already stands proudly near the old magistrates’ court, on Keel Square.

The website www.sunderlandlabour.co.uk details the progress of the redevelopment of the former mine site.

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