Smithy Manor plans a 'missed opportunity to celebrate mining past in St Helens'

An ex-miner who helped bring the Dream sculpture to St Helens believes current proposals to redevelop the nearby site of a derelict pub represent a missed opportunity.

Wednesday, 10th March 2021, 7:12 am
Updated Wednesday, 10th March 2021, 7:16 am
The Dream sculpture in St Helens

Plans were submitted to transform the former Smithy Manor pub on Jubits Lane, which closed in 2015, into offices and five-a-side football pitches with changing facilities.

No formal decision on the plans is due until the end of the month, but some are disappointed that the building isn’t set to be transformed into a tourist hub for Dream visitors.

Ex-miner Gary Conley, who helped bring the Dream sculpture to Sutton Manor, said: “I think they’re missing a really big opportunity to follow the vision we had when we installed the Dream 12 years ago. We said the pub would play an integral part in the Dream’s story, because it was part of the former colliery.

“I’d always hoped somewhere within it we could have a heritage centre – not only to celebrate our mining past at Sutton Manor but throughout the whole of St Helens.

“All the ex-miners I’ve spoken to all have memorabilia locked away in lofts somewhere that never gets seen – miners’ lamps and safety harnesses, things like that. It would be ideal to bring that back so people can have a look at the industry St Helens was built on.”

Gary recalled that when the Dream was brought to life in 2009, the Channel 4 TV crew involved in its launch said, “whoever owns that pub are going to make a fortune!”. However, since the Smithy Manor’s closure in 2015 the site has stood derelict.

“There’s so much that can be built on by opening a centre of knowledge. Dream isn’t a mining monument – it’s a public art sculpture dedicated to the mining industry.

"Jaume Plensa, the world-famous artist who worked with us saw the love and the passion we’ve still got for mining history, and it would just be great to have a place for the continuation of that story.”

There have also been calls to improve the parking situation for visitors to the Dream. As of now there is no dedicated parking for the sculpture, so many visitors are forced to park in nearby residential areas.

“Parking’s always going to be an issue,” Gary added. “Before Covid we had over 85,000 visitors per year. Last year I’d bet it was more than 100,000. But I think if we had some parking, especially some disabled bays, it would give people the chance to park somewhere that doesn’t annoy the community by parking in front of houses and on pavements.”

Other suggestions for the site have included a café with bicycle hire and toilet facilities serving tourists to Bold Forest Park.

“I wish the owner all the success in the world on a personal level, but I just think they’re missing a fabulous opportunity,” Gary said.