Mural magic

The streets of Parr in St Helens have been treated to an inspirational makeover. Harry Ewbank chats to some of the people who helped make the project happen

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Proposals for new street art in Parr were met with tension and apprehension from residents but the completion of two new murals on Rudd Avenue has helped catch the imagination of locals and visitors alike.

Titled Follow the Light and Keep Going and Keep Growing, the two adjacent forms of art are the brainchild of Manchester-based street artists Nomad Clan.

The duo of Jay Gilleard and Hayley Garner have completed works on buildings spreading from California to Berlin, and of course in their local communities in the North West.

It’s not just the artists who are to thank, as such a project would not have been possible without the help of local arts agency Heart of Glass and charity Torus Foundation.

Cath Brooks, health promotion officer at Torus, says: “I have worked with Heart of Glass in the past and they love having the community involved in their projects. We started off with focus groups bringing people in from the different areas of Parr to come and discuss the future, and both the good and bad of the area, and from this you could just see that the community spirit is so evident in the area.”

The murals are situated across the road from Derbyshire Hill Family Centre, on the opposing walls of Wiseman’s (aka Wisesy’s) newsagents and Barbara’s Hairdressers. Together they represent St Helens’ past, present and future.

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Filmic and dreamlike, one mural depicts an illuminated lantern, a nod to the area’s industrial heritage, with moths all around. Opposite, the second is of a young person’s head surrounded by a cloud of colourful motifs.

“We wanted to share a sense of how the bonds that we have with our ancestors shape our futures today, and the idea that we have to look into the past to understand where we have come from,” say Nomad Clan. “It’s important that places like Parr hold these stories and histories and look forward. By illuminating the magical parts of Parr, which are often overlooked, we wanted to create a sense of wonderment for residents and surrounding areas of St Helens.”

Having always worked in the area Brooks knows what makes it tick. There is a passion for rugby league for one thing, as proved by the crowds in St Helens who lined the streets last July to welcome the Super League Grand Final-winning team home. But a fondness for art in the town is not something she ever envisaged.

Indeed, the idea of a mural was met with scepticism, though not without reason after a LGBTQ pride mural in St Helens was defaced with homophobic slurs in late June.

The reservations and stigmas surrounding graffiti in Parr haven’t stopped residents connecting on a personal level and Brooks believes the murals will be treated with respect and looked after with care.

Reflecting on her time involved with the creation process, she says: “I honestly was so shocked by how many passing people said they were into art or bought pictures in for us to see.

“Just talking to the young people going past reassured us and we have been making sure they get involved.”

Paul Llewellyn, local resident and chair of the Sexton Park Community Allotment, says: “We’re very proud of our history and these murals capture it and offer a fresh creative perspective for the young people coming through – which is about exploring your mind and reaching your potential.”

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