How water from a disused Abertillery mine is being repurposed in world first to create unique paint

A community in Abertillery have come up with a unique way of repurposing water from disused mine workings.

In a world first, the mine water is being used to colour and create a special paint, named after the old colliery it comes from.

Six Bells mine and its neighbouring pits gave work to generations of families but by the late 1980s, sites were shut down.

The pumps were switched off and the underground infrastructures slowly filled with water. At Six Bells, this came to the surface and flowed into the river, turning it red.

As part of the solution and a way to keep alive the legacy of Wales' mining past, the liquid is now being used to create a new brand of paint.

Artist Onya McCausland, who is leading the project, said the paint is "much more" than a commodity and is a way for people to "learn about the landscape" and its history.

The community hopes that one day they will have "a full, fully functional paint making facility" in Six Bells.

Ms McCausland developed the idea of recycling the coal mine water into paint while studying for her PhD. She travelled around the UK collecting samples from mines in south Wales, Scotland, Lancashire and Yorkshire.

She then contacted Hywel Clatworthy, who is involved with a regeneration project for Six Bells.

Mr Clatworthy explained he was "so excited" when he received the call from Ms McCausland.

"She said she was interested in our colouring," he said.

"She'd been to 46 sites and it was Six Bells she wanted to come to and start a project and we'd make paint together. 

"It was it was very exciting to have that, we felt we were special."

Six Bells colliery closed completely in 1988. Credit: ITV Archive National Library of Wales

The water from Six Bell's old mine workings is collected, taken to a workshop and ground up. This is then used to colour the 'Six Bells Red' paint.

The ochre used to make the paint is waste residue that forms during the treatment of polluting mine water. That makes this a new and sustainable source of colour pigment.

Ms McCausland, who moved to Abertillery in 2015, said: "The paint is not simply a commodity, it's much more than that. 

"It's an object for people to think through, to learn about the process to learn about the landscape, the environment and what it means. 

"It's about people coming here, making the paint and learning about the colour learning about the material and how that material is translated into a paint, which carries all this stuff carries all this history, all these stories."

The project has been funded by the Leverhulme Trust, the Slade School of Fine Art and UCL Innovation & Enterprise.

It is hoped the paint will mean a new chapter for the town's mining history, continuing its legacy.

"The river used to run black. Then it used to run red. Now it runs clear," Ms McCausland added.

"There's a huge shift in how the land has been used. Our long term aim is to have a full, fully functional paint making facility right here in Six Bells."

Six Bells is the first of five former coal mining sites around the UK that will take part in this project. Water from Tan-y-Garn near Ammanford will also be used to create paint.