In a nutshell
Who are you?
Charlie Fox, I work with Newington Big Local and Creative Newington in Ramsgate.
What did you do?
Organised a project to decorate two local benches with mosaics made by the community.
To make the residents feel proud of their area and engage the community in a joint project.
What’s the benefit?
The benches are now an asset to the area and the project has given people the chance to get creativeand meet their neighbours.
One thing that has been a focus in Newington Big Local is making the community feel proud of where they live. The community centre in Newington is quite drab: there’s a lot of concrete and not a whole lot of colour and creativity so we decided to run a project to improve the area that was accessible to everyone. We thought the concrete benches would be a good place to start and put in an application to run a mosaic project for local residents to design and create a completely new look for the benches.
We’ve worked with a local artist and sculptor Rob Turner on projects before, particularly through the local Creative Civic Change (CCC) programme (also run by Local Turst), so we asked him to facilitate the mosaic bench project for us.
We decided that each bench would have a theme and that people could do anything they liked within those parameters. Our starting point was place, people and animals and in the end we settled on nature for one bench and emergency vehicles for the other. We finished the nature bench before lockdown but the second bench took on new meaning during COVID-19 – it now includes an acknowledgement of the NHS and frontline staff who have worked so hard during the pandemic.
At the beginning of the year we ran weekly drop-in sessions in the community hub where people could come and learn how to design and make mosaics. Residents made their individual designs by either drawing, building with Lego or using wooden templates. They were then helped to cut the tiles down using cutting tools. All the raw materials for the project – the tiles and tile cutters – were bought with a combination of Big Local and CCC funding.
The weekly drop-in sessions have been really great for helping people get to know their neighbours. In the first few months of 2020 we would often have around 65 or more people in the sessions which could get a bit hectic but was great fun.
We also held sessions in the local sheltered accommodation where older residents were shown how to make mosaics – they loved working on this project and really got into the spirit of it. Its also meant that we’ve had nearly every generation of the community come together on this project which is fantastic.
Keeping momentum going
Despite lockdown, we’ve managed to maintain lots of the community ties that were forged during the project. We’ve been setting creative challenges every week and encouraging local residents to post photos of what they’ve made. One week we gave out Kinder Eggs and asked people to make something using the toy inside – we got some really great responses! The mosaic project really helped show people that they do have a creative streak – even if they were previously convinced otherwise!
We finished making the individual mosaics before lockdown so the only thing left for Rob to do was put them all together and decorate the benches. We’re so pleased with the outcome – the benches have really brightened up the area around the community centre and are a massive improvement on what was there before. They’ve gone down really well with the local community and residents are proud to know that they’ve collaborated on a successful project.
I’d really recommend a project like this for other Big Local areas – it’s a fantastic way to make a community-led improvement to the local area that everyone can enjoy and will be there for years to come as a legacy of Big Local.