THE rich mining heritage at the core of so many east Cleveland communities is being celebrated by generations of villagers with the unveiling of a bronze statue.

The Spirit of East Cleveland now stands proudly in the area to commemorate mining of ironstone that was extracted from the earth for more than 90 years.

The lifesize statue of miners at work was officially revealed by the community members and a filmmaker who fought and fundraised to see the figures brought to life in Skelton on the A173 towards Guisborough.

Attending the formal unveiling were organisations, businesses, and politicians who supported the project. Schoolchildren and a brass band also marked the occasion earlier this week.

Among the crowd were the Friends of Skelton Community Orchard (FOSCO) whose treasurer and fundraiser Joyce White was deeply involved in seeing the project through.

She and her husband Stuart were delighted to be accompanied by their two great-grandchildren for the occasion.

Mrs White said: “We held a race night, tea afternoons, tombolas and a local firm raffled a glamping pod getaway break on our behalf, but we got a big breakthrough when ICL Boulby gave us a substantial cheque. However, I’d like to thank all the other businesses, large and small, as well as individuals who made financial contributions.

“Without their backing this wouldn’t have been possible.”

The statue was made by Skelton-based sculptor Bill Harling and it was unveiled by Craig Hornby, a North-East filmmaker whose documentary A Century In Stone tells of the discovery of ironstone and how it led to an explosion of industry and population throughout the area. “I was thrilled to find out my film had helped Bill in creating this fantastic sculpture,” said Mr Hornby.

“To be asked by FOSCO to unveil it was a real honour. It’s the finest tribute to our ironstone mining heritage in Cleveland by a long way.

“It was the graft, endurance and camaraderie of the mining communities through tough times that Cleveland was built on and that spirit is still relevant today.”

ICL Boulby vice president Andrew Fulton added the “hard work, dedication and bravery” of the miners transformed Teesside.

He said: “Obviously we were delighted to help kick start the fundraising for such a project.

“As fellow miners we know only too well the hard work, dedication and bravery these people displayed.

“Through their efforts they changed the landscape of the region and made Teesside a world leader.

“This is a fitting tribute to those men, their families and their achievements especially how, after all this time, mining still remains a vital part of these communities.”

MP for Middlesbrough south and east Cleveland Simon Clarke also praised the FOSCO group for their dedication to the cause and attended the opening ceremony Cross Green in Skelton.

He said: “A massive well done and thank you to Joyce and all the volunteers at Friends of Skelton Community Orchard.”