Most community projects I am involved with have a high degree of input from several different user groups, which could well be a youth club, a school or a local arts and crafts group for retired folk. I think this is essential to give a sense of local ownership, especially if the artwork is in a location that people will be passing on a regular basis.
The Winlaton Times is a splendid example of a community project that needed a lot of effort to bring to completion. I was approached in 2012 by Gateshead councillors Marilyn Charlton and Julie Simpson to make a final order of many ceramic pieces that had been created by users of the Winlaton centre over the previous decade. The umbrella title of the ceramic project was Winlaton Times, and it would convey a historic snapshot of Winlaton. My work on the project began on a long saturday afternoon with Janet Walton, a marvellous supporter of Winlaton centre, when we waded through many baskets of homeless ceramic pieces, trying to make sense of all that had been made in the previous years. Eventually I developed a plan of how things might look, but the main priority for me was to create the completion work with some of the groups that had been involved in the first place. In the course of the next few months I spent many happy hours with members of the Base, the Toddlers Group, Badminton Group, and After school club, and between us I think we did a very good job of of pulling the Winlaton Times together. The Winlaton Centre is a marvellous, multi user community centre, and I fervently hope that its example of group cooperation will be used as a model for any such projects in the future.
Crow Hall Towers
The Crow Hall Towers mosaics, or Felling Pride to use the official name, was a commission funded by the Gateshead Housing Company and administered by the public arts team at Gateshead Council, principally Jen Douglas and Anna Pepperall - to whom I owe enormous thanks. The aim of the project was to give a face lift to a somewhat stern looking entrance ramp on the Crow Hall Towers apartment building, and also to bring some life to the interior corridors. The building is very prominent in the centre of Felling high street and it was acknowledged from the outset that the content of the mosaics should bear relation to the history and strong community feeling of the area. This content largely boiled down to mining, railways and the large influx of Irish workers in the 19th century. Before embarking on the final mosaics I did research and workshops with several local schools as well as the arts and crafts club that use the community building adjacent to the tower block. I wanted the mosaics to have a simple, stylised appearance, with just a few colours and a recurrence of certain lines and rhythms. To my mind this was all serious subject matter so I didn't want the mosaics to look frivolous. I owe a big thanks, as usual, to Davy Whisler and Luke for doing the installation both inside and outside. They make me laugh if nothing else
Street Lights Youth Club
Hopes and Dreams was a mosaic created with the Streetlights Youth group in Crawcrook. The mosaic was made over the course of a number of evenings with an enthusiastic group of teenagers. The finished mosaic was installed outside St Andrews parish church, and subsequently rehoused in the Robert Memorial Methodist church when the Streetlights youth group relocated. Great credit must go to Helen Jarvis who worked tirelessly on the Streetlights project and had the initial vision to create a substantial work of art.