THE transformation of a heavily contaminated colliery and cokeworks site into a green oasis was celebrated yesterday.
Elba Park, formerly the site of the Lambton pit and cokeworks, was officially opened, with its colliery past remembered in a mining memorial artwork unveiled by ex-Sunderland and Newcastle United star Paul Bracewell.
The Homes and Communities Agency, the national housing and regeneration body for England, has invested over £25m in reclaiming the Sunderland site, where industrial activity came to an end with the closure of the cokeworks in the 1980s.
The 140-acre park includes a range of public art chosen by local people to commemorate Lambton’s history.
The new park has been named after Elba, the village which once stood by a curve of the Durham Junction Railway where it passed through the site, but disappeared as industrial activity expanded in the 19th Century.
At the centre of the new park, which is near the villages of Shiney Row, Burnmoor and Fencehouses, stands the memorial to miners at the colliery, where 127 pitmen are known to have lost their lives during its 364-year history. Artist Colin Wilbourn joined forces with local people in the Lambton Memorial Group to create the tribute artwork.
Nearby stands a series of wrought iron sculptures in the style of miners’ banners, created by children from four local schools with artist Craig Knowles, with additional funding from Sunderland City Council and the Coalfields Regeneration Trust.
In the 1990s both Colin and Craig worked on the series of artworks which line the regenerated St Peter’s riverside at the mouth of the Wear.
Meanwhile, a new bridge over the burn on the Lambton site includes a handrail made from miners’ pickaxes.
A further artwork inspired by the Wearside folk legend and song The Lambton Worm is set to be installed in the coming weeks.
Contractors moved over two million cubic metres of soil as part of the process to make the site safe, as well as planting 77,000 trees and creating 3,700 metres of new footpaths. The project has also paved the way for 359 family homes, now being built on an adjacent part of the site by David Wilson Homes. The housing will include a range of energy-saving and green features, such as rainwater harvesting and solar roof tiles, which will generate electricity which can be sold back to the national grid.
“We have worked side by side with local people for the past seven years to reclaim this site and make it safe for the community,” said Pat Ritchie, North East Director of the Homes and Communities Agency.
“Today is a chance to honour Lambton’s proud industrial heritage and to celebrate a new future for the site, providing green space and family homes for a new generation.”
Mike Roberts, managing director at David Wilson Homes North East, said: “We are looking forward to making Elba Park a thriving new community.”
The reclamation project has been supported by the Homes and Communities Agency, Sunderland City Council, the Coalfields Regeneration Trust, the Land Trust and the Lambton Memorial Group, as well as Groundwork North East, who will play a key role in maintaining the park and organising community activity.
Oct 2 2010 by Tony Henderson, The Journal