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Putting Benwell on the Map!

This project was always going to be a challenge because of its tight timescale. Before I knew it, however, I was agreeing to producing a massive 6 foot acrylic map instead of the A1 sized watercolour one I'd expected. To said same tight timescale...

A challenge it most certainly was. A big one. Literally. But what I hadn't anticipated was the joy this map would bring and the impact it would have.

My most collaborative project yet, this work was facilitated by Junction Point CIC, an organisation working to make the Voluntary, Social Enterprise and Charity Sector more sustainable - to help people "do good" - on behalf of W Club (more about them in a mo!) and in conjunction with pupils in Year 5 at St John's Primary School, Benwell.

The aim was to highlight local social, planning and economical issues which negatively impact both the lives of local people and the aspirations of their children. Why shouldn't all children aim for a good job, a nice car, a positive future?

The group at the centre of this, social action group W Club, (I think it stands for "wellbeing" although "wonderful" was floated when I asked and this was certainly apt!) wanted to raise their collective voices positively and creatively. Thus, the vision map came to pass.

W Club made me welcome, let me invade their group on a Tuesday morning - and their WhatsApp group - offered me tea, biscuits, hilarity, direction, encouragement and kindness. 9 weeks of hard graft, a trip to B&Q, a lot of paint, much chatting, coffee, several photography tours of Benwell, upside down painting (the top half of the map was too far away for me to reach so I had to paint most of the buildings there upside down!), some acrobatics (see previous) and lots of WhatsApping later, the map was ready.

Featuring local landmarks (not necessarily the obvious ones but the places that let W Club know they were home), a (broadly) geographic representation of the main roads and green spaces in the area and the river Tyne, motivational and aspirational quotes chosen by the women in the group and fabulous "what I would like for my local area" paintings by Year 5, this map isn't subtle. It's big, vibrant, quirky, chaotic and proud.

The photos show the brilliant, impactful launch event in March 2024, organised by W Club and lovely Sandra English from Junction Point at the Pavilion in St John's school, and attended by school staff, pupils and governors, representatives from the Combined North of Tyne Authority, local councillors including former Major of Newcastle and many others. The buzz around the possibilities for the map was obvious with many interesting conversations started and it looks like it is off on tour.

Watch this space!

This map was made possible by grant funding from North of Tyne Combined Authority, Connected Voice and Newcastle City Council, to whom I am very grateful. Many thanks also to Joel Lawson for the event photography and to Junction Point and W Club for trusting me with their vision.

Here's some of the journey in pictures...

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