Bench portraits a tribute to three of town’s heroes

LIFE-size silhouette statues commemorating three of Blyth’s modern-day heroes were unveiled in the town’s Ridley Park at the weekend.

A portrait bench featuring the images of teenage soldier Michael Sweeney, injured police officer David Rathband and comedy legend Stan Laurel was commissioned by sustainable transport organisation Sustrans.

The portraits were officially unveiled during a family fun day in the park featuring stalls and various activities.

The bench is one of a series throughout the UK designed to sit alongside lottery-funded sections of the National Cycle Network.

The inspirational trio were picked after Blyth residents were asked to nominate the townsolk past or present they would like to see immortalised in steel.

The most famous of those they picked was national treasure Stan Laurel.

The comedian’s father, Arthur Jefferson, built and managed the Old Blyth Royal Theatre, and it was there that the young Laurel, born in Cumbria in 1890, gained some of his earliest experience on the stage.

His image sits alongside that of Pc David Rathband, formerly of Blyth but now living in Cramlington.

Pc Rathband has won national acclaim for the courage he has shown since being shot in the face and left blinded for life by fugitive gunman Raoul Moat last summer.

The 43-year-old has since launched his own charity.

They are joined by Michael Sweeney, a 19-year-old soldier killed by an improvised explosive device while serving in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province in 2010.

Michael, of Lindsay Avenue in Blyth, died just two years after joining the Coldstream Guards.

His mum Kim, 41, said: “It was a beautiful day. The weather was lovely, and there was a good turnout.

“Some of the guards travelled up from London and were wearing their tunics.

“It was a very proud day for us, and Michael would have been proud.

“It’s a lovely spot. Michael used to play football there and take part in the remembrance parade to the cenotaph, so it had a lot of fond memories for Michael and fond memories for us.

“Seeing the portrait for the first time was lovely, and I had a lump in my throat.

“They were all good, but I felt that Michael’s was more accurate. You can definitely see his features.

“They are steel and, once fully weathered, they will be a burnished orange like the Angel of the North. It will be even better.

“It’s going to be there for a very long time, for people to remember Michael and for future generations, and that gives me comfort.”