A sneak preview has been given of a stunning centrepiece for a new development in a former colliery town.

Metal sculptor Ray Lonsdale, the creator of the famous ‘Tommy’ soldier statue on the sea front at Seaham, has been commissioned to produce a showpiece feature paying homage to the industrial heritage of the former Houghton Colliery site, in Houghton-le-Spring.

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

The finished piece will feature in a wider retail development on the old colliery site.

Councillor Kevin Johnston, a city council cabinet member, is also on the committee which commissioned the piece.

He paid a visit, with Houghton ward councillor Juliana Heron, to the studio to look at progress on the project, which will be completed over coming months.

It remains unclear, however, when it will be possible for the artwork to be installed to its permanent position.

Work on the wider development of the old colliery site is set to begin later this year, with a number of environmental studies still underway requiring surveys to be carried out over the summer months.

The council’s cabinet agreed to sell the former colliery site in 2019.

It has remained undeveloped since the pit’s closure after its 158-year lifespan, in September 1981.

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

Read more: Retail park development proposed for ex-Houghton Colliery site

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

Combined, the two stores are expected to create about 100 new jobs.

The sculpture will stand close by, as a permanent tribute to Houghton’s coal mining past.

Cllr Johnston said: “This is a poignant tribute to the city’s industrial heritage and a piece I am really proud we have been able to deliver for the people of Houghton, whose past is very important to them. 

“It is looking fantastic, and we’re looking forward to working with officers at the council to agree a plan for its installation.”

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

Cllr Heron said: “This important site is being brought back into use and ensuring we have a fitting focal point for people visiting, that celebrates the past of the area, is something I am really pleased to see moving forward.

“Ray is an incredible artist and his work on this sculpture is magnificent.

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

Hellens Group is looking into the possibility of lighting as part of the technical specification for the artwork’s installation, to ensure it continues to have impact by night. 

Mr Lonsdale has also been commissioned by the council to deliver three new pieces for the Riverside Sunderland development in the city centre, one of which, Gan Canny, already stands proudly in place close to the former magistrates’ court, on Keel Square.

The website www.sunderlandlabour.co.uk details progress on the old colliery site redevelopment.

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