A new mural to lift community spirits after a difficult year has been installed at the front of Debenhams in Swindon's town centre.
Funding for the project came from Wiltshire Community Foundation, and the mural was created by young people aged 10-15 from across Swindon with the support of local charities Artsite Community Arts and the Mechanics’ Institution Trust, who joined forces to deliver creative and therapeutic activities during the pandemic.
Casey Hillier, one of the youth workers involved in the project, said: “It’s been brilliant to see the young people have the space and time to reflect on everything that’s happened over the past year - on everything that’s important to them and the wider community and the things they want to see happen for our collective future.
"As well as reflecting on the pandemic, they’ve also talked a lot about equality and the environment, which of course are all related.”
Last year, 48 young people took part in an outdoor Creative Summer Youth Project at the Swindon Summer Bowl in the Town Gardens, where a range of arts activities was provided for them to try out.
Over the winter months the group continued to meet online, to support each other and share their experiences and aspirations for the future.
Out of these sessions grew a desire to create an artwork which could connect with and support the wider community to heal, and the idea of a mural developed.
The theme of the mural is hope, a sentiment the young people feel is important and one which everyone can relate to during this challenging period. They worked together over the Easter holiday weeks to develop ideas and images that symbolise hope, to pull these ideas together and turn them into a collaborative artwork that they hope will lift the spirits of everyone in the community.
Amelie Solomon, one of the young people involved, said: “Hope is a powerful feeling, it can help take your mind off any difficult situations you may be facing, whilst still not ignoring them altogether. It can help bring communities together, as it is a mutual emotion, felt by many, especially in the times of the pandemic.”
Project co-ordinator Hannah Parry said: “It’s been an amazing joint effort and experience. ”The young people and their ideas have been such an inspiration to the workers involved and to so many people who have enjoyed their artwork.
'Young people have the most amazing minds and ideas and there’s so much we, as adults, can learn from them. Young people are our future and they give us hope!”
Courtney Leigh-Osbourne, another young person involved in the project, said: “It’s important to remember that to have hope we must also have change and action. That’s why the words 'Helpfulness, Opportunity, People and Equality’ are in the mural - words that represent the letters in the word, ‘hope.’ The symbol that forms the sun is also the symbol of hope.”
Thanks to the support of inSwindon and The Parade management companies, the mural found a home on the front of Debenhams, which closed down recently.
Anita Bellinger, Executive Director of inSwindon, said: “inSwindon BID just loves the incredible mural of HOPE now displayed in the town centre, created by Swindon’s gifted young artists. What better way to celebrate the emergence from the stresses and restrictions of the pandemic than with this uplifting and thought provoking piece of artwork, accessible for all to appreciate?
"It was a privilege to meet the talented artists from our community during the creation process at Artsite’s Theatre Square studios. I was full of admiration for the thought process and emotions that inspired their work. These young people really do give hope for our future. Art Speaks.’
Sixteen young people from last year’s Creative Summer Youth Project took part in the mural project, as well as 10 young people who are supported by The Harbour Project and fed in their ideas through a workshop delivered by Sue Bardwell, one of the resident artists at Artsite.
Sally Taylor of Artsite said: "Providing space and opportunities for creatives is central to our aims, and we've been thrilled to mentor and support Swindon's young artists through this project.
"Murals play an important role in expressing and communicating collective issues and helping us to connect with each other, but they also help to regenerate our towns and cities and make them appealing and enjoyable places that we all want to live in. We hope to see many more murals and creativity popping up all around the town!"
Hannah Parry added: “We’d like to send thanks to everyone who’s been involved - to Wiltshire Community Foundation for providing the funding to make it possible, to Sally Taylor at Artsite for providing the space and mentoring required, to inSwindon for having the vision and understanding of how this kind of project helps to make our town a great place to live, and especially to the wonderful young people who gave their time, ideas, creativity and passion to make this inspirational project happen.”