THE region's oldest housing association, for ex-miners, has spread its wings and is looking after old sailors.

The Durham Aged Mineworkers' Homes Association (DAHMA), set up more than 100 years ago, has moved north of the Tyne to take over 30 homes in Tynemouth run by the Tyne Mariners' Benevolent Institution.

DAHMA has concentrated on providing homes for ex-pitmen and their widows in the former Durham coalfield.

Its director John Humble said: " With the demise of the Durham coalfield, the association has become more broadly focused and now we look after the needs of any retired people in housing need.

"The retirement homes have been around even longer than the association.

"They were built more than 150 years ago and are still providing much-needed housing for retired and needy seafarers and their widows.''

The Tyne Mariners' Benevolent Institution pays pensions monthly to seafarers on Tyneside who no longer work because of age or illness.

The secretary of its trustees, Timothy Duff, said: "Some of our pensioners live in the Tyne Mariners' Homes and some of our new beneficiaries are the widows of seafarers.

"The overriding test to qualify for a pension is need.

"Anyone on basic state pension only, or receiving income support or other financial assistance, may be eligible to apply and sometimes we can help in other cases too.

"The institution does have certain requirements, principally sea service, but even if we cannot help, we may be able to put people in touch with other seafaring charities who can assist.''

The Tyne Mariners' Homes were built in the days when more than 1,000 small ships were based on the river and master mariners were not well provided for in their old age.

Some of the mariners banded together to set up a friendly society to provide pensions.

The organisation moved on to build retirement homes on land provided by the Duke of Northumberland, in Tynemouth Road.