A FORMER pit village is preparing to unveil a new new statue to mark the 50th anniversary of the closure of its last mine.

Residents of Wheatley Hill, in County Durham, have raised more than £22,500 over the last four years to commission a Ray Lonsdale statue of a miner.

The statue will be unveiled in the village cemetery at 11am on Thursday May 3 - exactly half a century since the closure of Wheatley Hill’s colliery.

Called the Last Shift, it is based on a photograph taken of local miner Tom Davies in 1963.

Last Shift committee secretary Margaret Hedley: “We are very proud to be unveiling this statue.

“It has been an amazing journey, because it shows that while Wheatley Hill might not have a lot going for it, it certainly has community spirit.”

The idea was first suggested at the local mothers’ club in 2014, when one of its members, Irene McTeer, said something should be done to mark the anniversary on the mine’s closure on May 3, 1968.

The colliery was the major employer in the village for the duration of its 99-year lifespan, with almost 2,000 people working at the pit at its peak in 1914.

The mothers’ club launched a fundraising campaign which was rolled out to the village in 2015. At the same time Mr Lonsdale, the creator of Seaham’s famous Tommy statue, was approached.

Mrs Hedley said: “We had a good photograph of Tom Davies on his way to the pit in exactly the kind of clothing we wanted our miner to be wearing. That is what Ray Lonsdale has used as his template for the statue.

“Our target for local fundraising was £10,000, because we knew it would cost well over £20,000. On once we got that we could approach funders for rest of money.

“We surpassed that and raised £14,000 which was marvellous for such a small village.

“Organisations put on a variety of events and a crowdfunding page was created. People who have left the village and live all over the world donated toward it as well.”

The remaining funding was donated by the County Durham Community Foundation, the James Knott Trust, Durham Miners’ Association, Co-operative Society, Castle Eden Freemasons, Durham county councillors Jude Grant, Lucy Hovvels and Peter Brookes and Wheatley Hill Parish Council, who also provided the resting place for the statue. There will be an evening of nostalgia in the Wheatley Hill Workingmen’s Club with the John Wrightson Band on Wednesday May 2.

Tickets are £5 and available from Mrs Hedley on 07977 546332.