Art at the Heart

By David Tudor-Morgan
Retail Property Manager at British Land

10 Jun 2016

We’re constantly looking at how we can further improve the visitor experience at our places; recent investment put art at the heart, connecting with our local communities and celebrating local heritage.

As a placemaker, we’re always keen to connect with the people who work and shop at our local centres and those who live nearby. So, we made sure that recent makeovers at some of our local centres not only included better walkways, new visitor centres, enhanced green spaces, upgraded cycle routes and new children’s play areas – but also an exciting series of artworks linking to local heritage, all created with involvement from local residents.

At Wheatley, Doncaster, we commissioned local artist Chris Campbell to create a sculpture celebrating the area’s tractor manufacturing past. Former factory workers, their families and local children gave input into the design, which includes a vintage tractor similar to those first made at the factory, a 1970s model that was the last to be produced there and workers going about their everyday business.

Wheatley, Doncaster.

Pupils from Kingfisher Primary School visited Chris Campbell’s workshop to experience how a sculpture progresses from design to physical installation. They also created hand grips for the climbing wall in our new children’s play area. Teacher Mr Lowe said: “The children (and adults!) had a fantastic time and learnt a great deal about art, craft and design technology. Experiences like this are vital if schools are to help educate the designers, engineers and artists of tomorrow.” Pupils described the project as ‘a-maz-ing’!

At Tollgate, Colchester, renowned mosaic artist Paul Siggins created a series of mosaics, including one shaped by local children. Pupils from Stanway Primary School drew pictures of what Colchester means to them, which Paul turned into a design for our new visitor centre. The children then created the mosaic, working alongside Paul’s team at the studio. I think my favourite bit is the Roman chariot pulled by a giraffe!

Tollgate, Colchester.

On the walkways are another two wonderful mosaics by Paul and his team, showing local historical facts and figures – from Boudicca, Roman ribbons, coins and horse chariots, to painter Constable and music group Blur.

At Elk Mill, Oldham, sculptor Emma Hunter involved local children, former mill workers, local poet Cathy Crabb and other local residents in creating a collection of artworks linking to the area’s cotton-spinning history. My favourite piece resembles giant spinning cotton bobbins and features Haiku poems telling stories from local residents, including former mill workers and their families. I also love the new bronze footprints that recall a time when workers went barefoot to avoid slipping on the oily floor – and offering today’s children fun opportunities to make bronze rubbings to take home.

Elk Mill, Oldham.

Other pieces designed by Emma include a sculpture in the style of old line-shaft wheels and belts, fabricated by local engineer Andy Stafford and featuring poetry by Cathy Crabb. Plus, cotton can sculptures are being installed near our new children’s play area, decorated with graphics by students from The Oldham Academy North, inspired by a visit to Helmshore Mill Textile Museum.

Martin Knowles, Principal of The Oldham Academy North, commented: “Our partnership with British Land has enabled our students to participate in experiences that otherwise they may not have had. The high quality support and guidance provided by British Land has been exceptional.”

Students from The Oldham Academy North at Helmshore Textile Museum.

It’s been wonderful hearing about the progress of all the pieces. It’s even better seeing them in situ and enjoying the reactions from visitors. I look forward to many more projects to come!

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