A SMART welcome awaits visitors to one of the North East's newest cultural attractions thanks to a five-figure grant from a regional employer.

The Mining Art Gallery, in Bishop Auckland Market Place, is dedicated to exploring how miners responded to their experiences through art.

A £20,000 grant from County Durham-based employer The Banks Group, donated via its Banks Community Fund, helped fund the reception area, shop and three display cases in the refurbished Grade II listed building.

One of the cases currently contains some of renowned pitman painter Norman Cornish's sketchbooks and pen.

Personal items belonging to other miners also feature, including hard hats, a water canteen and a food tin.

The Mining Art Gallery, which has had more than 10,000 visitors since it opened last October, provides a permanent home for more than 400 paintings and drawings by famous local artists, as well as artworks on loan from national institutions.

A temporary exhibition commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Bevin Boys scheme and the men conscripted through it into the mines during World War II is currently on show at the gallery.

The gallery is part of The Auckland Project, an arts, faith and heritage destination that aims to revitalise the future of Bishop Auckland through employment, training and educational opportunities.

Liz Fisher, engagement director at The Auckland Project, said: "The support we've had from regional businesses like The Banks Group and other funders makes a real difference to everything we do, and we're very grateful to all of them for their generous contributions."

Mark Dowdall, environment and community director at the Banks Group, said: "As a local family-owned property, renewables and energy business with our own mining heritage, which continues to this day, we were pleased to support this project which will benefit both the local community and the local economy."