A memorial to the thousands of workers who lost their lives in Scotland’s iron and steel industry has been unveiled on the former site of the most iconic steel plant of them all.
The Steelman, a stunning five-metre high steel structure designed by renowned sculptor Andy Scott has been unveiled on the former Ravenscraig site in North Lanarkshire.
Scott is the creator of major works of public art including Arria in Cumbernauld, and the huge Kelpie horses’ heads in Falkirk – but this latest statue, a memorial to men whose job cost them their lives, is unusually special.
It will stand as a permanent reminder of the tragedies which laced the story of Scottish steel, on a site now under intense redevelopment for new businesses and leisure amenities.
The poignant ceremony took place last month following a three-year campaign by the Scottish Steelworkers’ Memorial Fund to raise a six-figure sum to pay for the memorial.
The statue, depicting a worker with a stream of molten steel pouring from his hand and sparking off the ground, was formally unveiled by Roy Rickhuss, general secretary of the Community union.
Fund chairman Terry Currie said it was difficult to pin down the statistics on deaths in the industry – but it seems the usual estimate of people who died is conservative.
Terry Currie said: “The Iron and Steel Trades Confederation say 2,302 of their union members lost their lives across the UK.
“But there were about eight or nine big unions in the industry and they all had heavy membership, so whatever way you look at it the number of deaths was significant.”
He added: “You can’t underestimate the importance that the iron and steel industry had in Scotland and it is long overdue but better late than never.
“We targeted specific groups and they came forward in their droves and it’s not just cash donations - for example, Highland Colour Coaters from Cumbernauld were the galvanising company who put the coating on the metal.
“They did that free of charge, which was a magnificent gesture.”
Tommy Brennan, who was union shop stewards’ convener at Ravenscraig, said it was important to have a fitting tribute to those who lost their lives.
He said: “The steel industry was a dirty, dangerous, hazardous industry full of gaseous areas, steam and smoke, overhead cranes and heavy machinery.
“It was a frightening place for people on their very first day. But it was a good industry to work in.
“The people who worked in the industry were fantastic people.
“I’ll never forget it and I’ll never forget those people who went to their work in the morning and never went home at night.”
It’s 23 years since Ravenscraig closed and almost 30 years since Gartcosh Steelworks closed in 1986.
Sculptor Andy Scott admitted he was humbled to be asked to create the memorial and said it was important to leave a legacy for future generations to understand how important the industry was.
He said: “It was a long job, the fundraising was difficult because of the economy at the time, but we stuck with it.”
He added: “I think one of the reasons the chaps came to me in the first place was that I am well known for using steel as a material.
“It was one of the things which really drove me to do the project.
“I was trying to summarise the effort and the labour that went into the industry and I hope it serves as a proud tribute to those who lost their lives.”