AN appeal has been launched to put together a multi-million pound bid to save the historic “pitman’s parliament” and turn it into a cultural hub for County Durham.

Durham Miners’ Association (DMA) is planning a huge restoration of its 102-year-old headquarters at Redhills.

It hopes the appeal will preserve the building for future generations and bring it back into common usage.

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Ross Forbes, from the DMA, said: “It hasn’t been used as well as it should be in the past few years. We have set out a five year plan of bringing the building up to the point where people can practise and make the heritage and culture of North-East.

“We want to open it up to the next generation.”

It is thought the restoration will cost between £3m-£5m.

The DMA is hoping to put together a Heritage Lottery Fund bid and is launching an appeal giving people the chance to sponsor a seat in the council chamber, to start the fundraising process.

Each seat has a number which corresponds to a colliery and was where its union representative took his place.

Sponsors will have an inscribed, memorial brass pit token as placed on the seat of their choice and receive a keepsake copy.

DMA secretary Alan Cummings said: “There is a century of emotion and history tied up in the Pitman’s Parliament. It represents the people’s history of coal mining in County Durham.

“We expect there will be a lot of demand to sponsor the seats because it is a living link to people’s past.

“This sponsorship is the first step in an ambitious plan to restore the miners’ hall and establish it as a hub of heritage and culture for the Durham Coalfield. It will become a place where music and art is practised and performed.

“We are determined that the Pitman’s Parliament will be preserved for future generations as a place where people can not only connect with their past but also nurture and cherish our rich culture.”

The appeal was launched today and around 100 tokens have already been sold.

The miners’ hall, which cost £50,000 to build, opened in 1915 and replaced another hall in North Road.

It has never had a major refurbishment and the council chamber still has all of its original fittings, including oak panels and stained glass windows.