There are many towns and cities renowned for their art galleries; home to iconic pieces of art; bases for ever changing art installations. You may have visited some; queued to see the Mona Lisa, visited Florence just to see Michelangelo’s David; marvelled at the latest ‘big art’ in the Tate Turbine hall, but have you been to Wigan?
Wigan. A gritty, dark northern town immortalised by George Orwell – the name of the town probably still conjures up images to many of clogs and pit brow lasses, run down housing and coal dust. You might know us for our pies; maybe you’ve heard of our famous rugby and football teams; you might have danced the night away in our casino to the sounds of northern soul, but the home of cutting-edge art? Really? Wigan? Art?
As the world of retail continues to migrate online, Wigan, like many towns in the UK, has seen a steady decline in its town centre with an endless cycle of shops closing, leading to less visitors, a decline in spending leading to shops closing, negatively impacting the economic growth of the town. Creative thinking was needed to entice people into the town centre and bring it back to life.
Thankfully Wigan Council, led by Chief Executive, Alison McKenzie Folan, had a vision. Recognising that the arts sector is currently booming, bringing in over £8 billion to the UK economy, it was decided to create a ‘cultural hub’ on the top floor of one of Wigan’s shopping centres, utilising six empty shops.
Wigan based artists, Al Homes and Al Taylor, were bought in to breath life into a five-year program igniting arts and culture across the whole of the Wigan borough.
Their manifesto saw the launch of Wigan’s ‘The Fire Within’ in May 2019, transforming a shopping centre floor into a bright, exciting public space with innovative artwork, music, performance art and dance. More than 36,000 visitors both local and from across the world have visited the ground breaking installations since opening, enjoying the diverse exhibits.
Ensuring the space continues to attract visitors, Autumn 2019 saw four of the exhibition rooms transformed into a brand-new exhibition, ‘Love is a Rebellious Bird’, which was launched on November 2nd.
The four new exhibition spaces take visitors on a “breathtaking journey from the tender precarious moment we are born to the hour of our death” featuring artworks, videos, poetry, performance and much more.
From the moment you enter the first room, ‘Birth’, and hear the haunting voice of activist Greta Thunberg declaring “you have stolen my dreams and childhood…” - her powerful message intensified by the music and images accompanying her, your journey through life begins. ‘Rebel’, ‘Love’ and ‘Rebirth’ complete the four new rooms displaying work from a range of mainly local artists.
So, Wigan. An arts hub? Are you finding it hard to believe at this point? World renowned artists curating exhibitions in our home town. Art gracing the walls of once busy shops. Music and prose reaching out across the once busy walkways of the Galleries inviting you to come inside and listen and look and learn. Wigan?
The thing that impressed us the most was the sheer size and scale of the installation, stretching out, filling almost the whole floor of what was once a shopping centre full of people.
And in our home town.
A bus ride away, ten minutes in the car, walking distance from the train. Exciting, innovative art.
Established artists like leading lady Ghislaine Howard, exhibiting in almost every room; her easily recognisable, thought provoking paintings covering everything from birth to death, human suffering and massacres.
Local artist, Jane Fairhurst, based at Cross Street Arts in Standish, proudly showcasing her Hokusai inspired series, ‘Freefall’, depicting a small hybrid figure appearing to ‘freefall' to its doom.
Photogrammetrist Lee McStein, in his first major exhibition, displaying the stunning Ba bird from Mrs Goodison’s Egyptology Collection at The Atkinson.
Performance poet Louise Fazackerley reading from her latest work ‘The Lolitas’ accompanied by a lioness and artwork from Ghislaine and Jane.
Breastfeeding portraits by Klaire Doyle, photography from Livia Lazar, textiles from Claire Barber, colliery pigeons exquisitely drawn by Mary Griffiths. Fashion silhouettes from Callum Clint, Liz Chapman’s bird nests, Anne Louise Kershaw remembering the suffragettes, music from The Lynchs; all overseen and exhibited under the guidance of Al and Al, artists in their own right creating and exhibiting a selection of their own computer-generated environments.
Every room contains a wealth of images, sound and objects provoking you to consider how to make the world a better place. Themes inspired by Extinction Rebellion Wigan and conversations with past visitors, fearing for the future of the planet and trying to find a way to navigate a path to save it.
All of this in addition to the Fire Within HQ hosting local bands and performers, Leigh Film Society events, talks and open mic sessions.
And the ICONS exhibition space housing, amongst other artworks, one of Wigan’s most famous, forgotten artists, Theodore Major. Born and raised in Wigan he exhibited his grim depictions of Wigan streets and factories and nightmare imaginations alongside artists such as LS Lowry; refusing to sell his work to the ‘elite’ and choosing to display his own work at his Appley Bridge studio making it available for all to share.
And all of this in our home town.
Our home town.
A truly outstanding achievement by Al and Al bringing together such a wide range of work and making it freely available to the people of Wigan and visitors to the town.
Go and see it even if you think you don’t like art. It’s not just paintings or dull pictures hanging on the wall – each of its rooms designed to overload your emotions with music and images and sounds.
Wigan. We might be just a small northern town, but do not underestimate the ambition of Wigan Council and its efforts to improve the lives of the people living here.
Time in a public space art gallery; time to think; time to reflect; time to share in the work of some talented local artists. Breathing space from the stresses and strains of your life if only for an hour or two.
Wigan. That small northern town with a pier and lots of pies. A cultural hub for art? We may surprise you. After all we won the FA cup once.
Oh, and if you find yourself in Wigan coming to see the exhibition, why not try some or all of our Wander Years ‘Walk to Wigan Pier’ – a guide to help you find some of the best places to photograph in Wigan whilst enjoying a walk around the town.
Read more about Ghislaine Howard and her exhibit as part of the Peterloo Commemorations in Manchester 2019.
For more photos of this stunning exhibition visit our gallery page.
As November approaches and the clocks have gone back; the nights are darker; the weather turns colder; a tiny red flower begins to appear on coats and handbags, cars and buildings bringing colour and emotion into our lives. A tiny red flower with a very special purpose. A tiny red flower to remember those who sacrificed their lives, fighting for their country in far off places and dying where they fell, all to keep their country,us, safe.
Not many families here will have remained completely untouched by the sadness and despair of war; maybe losing a loved one, maybe suffering themselves, losing their homes, losing their futures.
Each November that tiny red flower appears to remind us of the sacrifices others made in our name. The poppy has been used as a symbol of remembrance since 1921. Inspired by lieutenant colonel John McCrae’s, famous poem ‘In Flanders Fields’ written in 1915 which told of the red poppies growing over the graves of the fallen soldiers in Flanders. A symbol of resilience and hope in an otherwise bleak and desolate battlefield.
An American academic Moina Michael was inspired to campaign to have the poppy adopted as a symbol of remembrance across the United States. As a result, a French woman Anna Guerin arrived in the UK in 1921 to sell poppies in London. She met with Earl Haig, who founded the Royal British Legion, and he made the decision to adopt the poppy as their emblem. 9 million poppies were sold that first year and now over 45 million poppies are sold in the lead up to November 11th in England, Northern Ireland and Wales. Poppy Scotland sell a further, slightly differently designed, 5 million across Scotland.
Services of Remembrance take place across the whole of the UK on the Sunday nearest to November 11th each year with local cenotaphs holding acts of remembrance involving the whole community from the royal family and veterans in London to local uniformed organisations and residents in towns and villages.
Across the country some memorials stand poignantly in beautiful surroundings which mask the events which took place around them.
Once such memorial sits in a stunning location just outside the village of Spean Bridge in the highlands of Scotland, overlooking Ben Nevis and the Mamore mountains. The Commando Monument, a category A listed bronze sculpture, has stood in this place since 1951 and commemorates the soldiers of the British Commando Forces. Opened by the Queen Mother in 1952 and standing 17 feet tall, three commandos in traditional dress have been immortalized in bronze forever; looking out towards Ben Nevis. A location chosen for a very specific reason.
The British Commandos were formed in 1940 at the behest of Winston Churchill, who wanted a special force to be able to carry out specific raids in occupied Europe. They were recruited from other sections of the British army and were seen as an elite force. Over 2000 serving army soldiers volunteered to be ‘commandos’ and undertake the training for the role.
In 1942 a training base was established at Achnacarry, 6 miles from the current monument, and potential commandos began to arrive. Their journey by train to Spean Bridge railway station often took over 14 hours and they arrived to find in front of them a 7 mile march at speed in full kit carrying their weapon. The march had to be completed in less than an hour or they were immediately returned to unit. Those that completed the initial selection test were then faced with weeks of intensive training in the surrounding countryside. Tactics, techniques, the latest weapons, unarmed combat and survival, physical fitness, orienteering, silent killing, signalling, enemy weapons and even demolition. Running up Ben Nevis, handling boats in the surrounding lochs, night time manoeuvres and cliff assault. A highly intensive training, which saw many soldiers returned to units, but rewarded those who completed it with a coveted green beret. More than 25,000 men passed through the training centre between 1942 and 1946 leading to the area gaining the nickname ‘commando country’.
The soldiers are long gone and the echoes they left behind somewhat forgotten but the striking memorial stands as a permanent reminder to the courage and sacrifice made by the commandos since 1942.
During the past years a Garden of Remembrance has been added to the site. Many a family have scattered the ashes of their loved ones around this area and there are poignant tributes to commandos who have died in more recent conflicts.
The Commando Memorial receives thousands of visitors every year; coach after coach pulling onto its ample car park, motorhomes spending the night, cyclists stopping off en route and tourists, tourists everywhere. A photographer’s dream in all seasons the sculpture stands out against the imposing backdrop of Ben Nevis and the Mamore mountains – everyone wants a selfie. Great views from all sides in all weathers and the perfect addition to many a sunset photo, but do these visitors have any understanding of what the sculpture represents?
How many take time to read the inscriptions? Are they here to remember fallen soldiers or just to admire the view and the great piece of art standing before them? Do they visit the newer memorial garden?
Remembrance Sunday each year sees the monument become a focal point for veterans and their families, locals and visitors as they stand together to remember the sacrifices made so many years ago and in the years since. Veterans march through nearby towns during Remembrance Sunday, culminating in a moving service held at the memorial late in the afternoon.
So, if you are very passing (it is just off the main A82) take time to stop and admire the striking memorial to fallen commandos and the magnificent scenery which surrounds it. 1700 commandos lost their lives in WW2, many more were seriously wounded and eight were awarded the Victoria Cross for ‘valour in the presence of the enemy’. The Garden of Remembrance reminds us that families still lose loved ones in conflicts across the world; fighting to protect their loved ones and their country.
Sit quietly on one of the benches, admire the views and remember the young men who gave their lives so many years ago.
“In memory of the officers and men of the commandos who died in the Second World War 1939-45. This country was their training ground.”
“Remembered with Love”
For more photos of this truly special place click here to visit our gallery.
How do you best commemorate a brutal massacre which took place 200 years ago, claimed the lives of 18 people and injured hundreds more? All these years later the events which took place on the 16th August 1819 at St Peter’s Field in Manchester still make horrific reading.
Thousands of people, estimated at more than 60,000, had marched from across Lancashire and gathered to listen to speeches from famous orators, including Henry Hunt, all guests of the Manchester Patriotic Union in the sunshine of St Peter’s Field. These were people who were hungry thanks to crippling food prices stemming from the Corn Laws; people who worked in appalling conditions in mills for very little pay; soldiers who had returned from the Napoleonic wars to find no jobs and no food; people who had lost their jobs thanks to new machinery, greedy factory owners and the ‘Industrial Revolution’. Families came to the event dressed in white as a sign of their peaceful intentions; brought picnics to eat together as they listened to the speeches advocating political and parliamentary reform and greater suffrage. There were no demands for food or better pay they just wanted greater representation in parliament – their voices to be heard, their chance to vote. Shockingly at that point Manchester had no political representation in parliament.
Deemed to be ‘northern radicals’ and judged to be a threat by local magistrates – the sheer numbers of the crowd made the magistrates feel they had no choice but to act to put a stop to the demonstration. As the meeting began the Manchester & Salford Yeomanry were sent to arrest some off these ‘radical’ orators and charged into the crowd. In their rush to make their arrests, 2-year-old William Fildes was knocked out of his mothers’ arms and became the first victim of the violence that day. The 15th Hussars followed, mounted on horses and, instructed to disperse the now terrified crowd of thousands, charged with their sabres drawn. Half an hour of terror and blood, screaming and suffering ensued as the Hussars charged through the crowds slashing with their sabres indiscriminately. Men, women and children slashed in the back by sabres as they tried to escape- the brutality of the Hussars that day has not diminished despite the passing of 200 years.
18 people died – men, women and children. Many hundreds were injured in what is remembered as the most brutal and bloody event of the 19th century, but now seen as the starting point for real democracy in this country and eventual voting rights for all – universal suffrage.
Lancashire rose tiles on the floor of the town hall extension – 18 with red centres containing the names of the fallen and a small plaque on the side of the Radisson Hotel, once Manchester’s Free Trade Hall, have been the only memorials to the tragedy of that day in the city. What is even harder to believe is that the event does not feature in the history curriculum taught in schools and remains a little-known atrocity. Thanks to a 2018 film by writer and director Mike Leigh, the massacre began to gain more prominence and it was decided that to mark the 200th anniversary of that fateful day Manchester would build a monument commemorating the lives lost.
Designed by artist Jeremy Deller and built on the site of St Peter’s Field the sculpture has 11 concentric steps leading to a speaker’s podium. Each layer contains names of those who died and towns that took part in addition to commemorating the date. It is designed for interaction and is a striking feature on the land outside the Manchester Central building. The design has not been without its own controversy and featured no official unveiling due to ongoing disputes with disability groups about the lack of disabled access to the monument.
It stands to remind us all of the sacrifice of 18 ordinary people who simply wanted to have their voices heard in parliament. A violent and brutal quelling of their spirit but one that ultimately led to reform in the parliamentary system across the country. Sadly, part of the sculpture reminds you that such acts of violence are not consigned to the past with similar acts of brutality still taking place across the world.
Whatever your politics no one can deny that the outcome of what happened that day 200 years ago still resonates in the city of Manchester and beyond. We need to all stand and remember and try to ensure that no one suffers or witnesses the brutality and horror seen on that day ever again.
But sadly a momentary glance at the television news or a morning read of your chosen newspaper will inevitably feature scenes of human suffering and anguish across the world. Massacres continue to take place; regimes attempt to stifle independent thinking and control what they judge to be ‘radicals’; men, women and children continue to die. Violence, atrocities, genocide – the world never changes, people never learn.
Ghislaine Howard, ‘a painter of powerful and expressive means’ chanced to be in London on 7/7/2005. Although not involved directly in the bombings, on returning home she felt compelled to make some sort of response to the events of that day. Her initial attempts came to nothing and it was only a year later in July 2006, that seeing comparative imagery and film footage of that day, that she decided to make a small 6” by 8” painting of one of the iconic news images. She then realised that this simple act could not stand alone as each morning brought fresh images of some other world event into her home. As these small panels mounted up in her studio, they were seen by a curator who immediately sensed that this private response to world events should be seen publicly and in due course 365 of the paintings were exhibited at Imperial War Museum North.
‘The impulse to make them is deeply rooted in my work as a whole, but really they have grown from an increasing sense of desperation at recent events and a need to address the disposability of the terrible but often so beautiful and ambiguous images that arrive daily thought the door . . .’
She has continued to create the striking and haunting images of warfare, crime and suffering - one a day – ever since.
As the anniversary of the Peterloo massacre approached she felt compelled once more to produce her response to what took place. Her interpretation of the horror and the suffering of that day featured in an exhibition ‘Towards an Impossible Painting’ held as part of the weekend of commemorations on the 200th anniversary of the tragic events in St Peter’s Field.
The exhibition, co-curated by art historian Michael Howard, was held in the Greater Manchester Chamber basement space on Deansgate. It featured a number of paintings from the 365 Series and other responses to events across the world, including the ongoing situation in Hong Kong. Central to her project was the study and re-interpretation of images from the past, including paintings, prints, photographs and film. From these, Ghislaine hoped to find a suitable means of producing a painting that could seen as be a credible response to the events at St. Peter’s Field.
The final painting came as a surprise - not a large, monumental statement in the manner of Goya or Picasso - but a single small painting of a child’s pink sandal seen in the aftermath of some now-forgotten event. It makes a poignant connection with the words of the radical reformer Samuel Bamford, who was present at St Peter’s Field on that fateful day in 1819:
‘Over the whole field were strewed caps, bonnets, hats, shawls and shoes…’
How do you commemorate such an event? Maybe that isn’t important as long as we ensure that we never forget.
For more images of the Peterloo Memorial pay a visit to our gallery
Do you take as much care of your mental health as you do of your physical health? We’ve all had years of advice on how to eat healthily, those five or seven pieces of fruit and veg a day; exercise for that minimum of 20 minutes 3 times a week; watch your sugars and your fats; don’t eat too much red meat; it can all get very confusing but maybe it’s having an impact?
Mental health has been the hidden illness for decades and has only recently begun to gain a higher presence in the media bringing it to the forefront of society.
Shockingly the statistics connected to the decline of your mental health make hard reading. British men are three times more likely than women to take their own lives and with suicide rates in young people continuing to grow each year it is time we all found ways to ensure looking after our mental health is a top priority.
There is no stigma, or there shouldn’t be, attached to suffering from a mental health illness, but it is still a hard subject to broach with friends and family and especially your employers. As more and more people begin to tell their stories it will hopefully become just another ‘illness’ that you may suffer from during your lifetime and we can all try to see the symptoms of someone’s suffering and maybe help them find a way through it.
It makes good practise to watch your mental health and if you feel yourself declining try to take steps to support yourself as you would with any illness. Sometime that’s just not possible and as a society we need to learn how to spot the sign of someone in distress and support them as best we can until they are feeling more capable.
For me, when a low mood begins, I find a release of sorts in being outdoors with my camera. Solitude and peace help me to try and cope with the state of whatever is happening in my mind. It is not always an easy thing to pick the camera up and go outside – sometimes the easier choice is just to stay inside and hide away from the world and all the problems in it, but thankfully I have always found the strength to take myself outside and once there my love of photography takes over and for a few hours at least I manage to forget whatever turmoil is currently clouding my thoughts.
Lifting yourself out of a low mental state is not always this simple, but photography helps me to cope with life at times when I feel that I can’t and as I read of yet another closed bridge, another ‘police incident’ how I wish that these people could find a way to get through their suffering and stay.
And what about Social Media? Is it really to blame for the decline in the state of our mental health? It’s certainly sometimes hard to distinguish between real life and the digital world. Maybe it feels that your ‘friends’ have so much as you strive to just keep afloat. Loneliness sets in as you watch everyone surrounded by friends enjoying their lives. Photoshopped images causing you to yearn for a perfect body and lifestyle. Addictions to the number of likes you gain – after all doesn’t the number of likes reflect your popularity? Instagram is currently experimenting with the removal of ‘likes’ from posts. Will that change social media for the better?
Negativity abounds on social media – internet ‘trolls’ bullying and harassing, the spread of extremism on all sides, horrific comments, death threats. The anonymity it provides offers a haven which incites some people to adopt personas that are probably far removed from their real-life roles. Would they make these comments to someone’s face? I doubt it, so why do they feel it is acceptable to do it via a keyboard?
But isn’t there also a positivity there that was certainly missing from my younger years? How many school friends are you still in touch with? Who picked the phone up to telephone anyone when we were younger? Friendships just drifted away when circumstances changed but thanks to social media it is now so much easier to maintain contact with important people in your life. There are no barriers of distance to stop you from sharing a message or a post or maybe even a video call. Relationships formed via online dating are now much less likely to end in divorce than one formed the conventional way. Social media puts you in touch with similar people who share mutual hobbies and interests – Instagram and twitter both have thriving communities of photographers offering advice and sharing tips. Strong ‘online’ friendships sometimes result as part of these communities. Will you ever meet up? Maybe not but there is pleasure to be gained by messages of support and mutual respect and by sharing your lives through your photographs.
Resilience is the current ‘buzz’ word to help us all cope. We must build resilience to help us to overcome issues that affect our mental health. Toughen up and learn how to handle the ups and the downs. The older generation would almost certainly tell you to ‘pull yourself together’ – after all there’s nothing in your life that could possibly be making you sad -look around don’t you have everything you want and need? But true depression and anxiety has no reason or rules. You’re not responsible for these feelings – you’re ill and just like with any illness you need time and support.
Looking after yourself – your ‘wellbeing’ – should be something we are encouraged to do from a very early age but sadly we live in a society of constant pressure and stresses and strains in people’s lives. More cars on the road make commutes longer and harder. Unreliable transport systems lead to long hard days leaving hardly any time to relax. An expectation to work above and beyond your working hours whilst maintaining perfect health – pity the person who incurs the wrath of the work sickness policy. The lack of community spirit leads to social isolation and loneliness and look at that social media again – isn’t everyone having so much more fun than you?
From a very early age the pressures of life begin - families paying for tutors to get their children through primary school tests, exams after exams after exams followed by crippling student debts and a glut of people with degrees making your career route much more difficult. Parents having to work full time to keep their families afloat; trying to bring up children whilst supporting their elderly parents; bills going up much quicker than wages; politics going mad; BREXIT, BREXIT, BREXIT…
It’s no surprise that across the country everyone’s mental health is suffering. The path to mental peace and calm is not an easy one. What works for one person might not for another. Just like a cold that turns into pneumonia some people need more help than others. You may be strong for a while then slip back into anxiety and depression for no apparent reason. Friends and family may not notice – everyone wants to appear ‘strong’ to the world and it’s a difficult decision to reveal your pain and suffering.
We manage to stay afloat supporting each other, but contrary to what you might think if you read our blog or visit our social media accounts, our life is not perfect. Many a comment comes our way envying the life we lead, the places we visit, the ‘fun’ we have. Our photos reflect the best times of our lives and, thankfully we have plenty of those, but we don’t spend every day out with our cameras, visiting spectacular places in the sunshine. Like most other people our lives mainly consist of working to earn the money to do the nice things; supporting our family as they work through their individual periods of stress. We have suffered times of great sadness and loss, had close family involved in very difficult and traumatic situations, wondered how we’d pay the next bill that arrived through the door – all of which have shaped us as life seems to momentarily spiral out of control.
There have been periods of my life when anxiety has ruled; when the feeling of pointlessness has overridden every other feeling in my head. When the vice like feeling of everything around you squeezing conspires to make you want to run as far away as possible, but I am much stronger than I think. My camera comes out, my walking boots usually follow, and I walk and walk and walk. Nature calms me. Photography soothes me. I take pleasure in taking a photograph I love and if it is just me that loves it then that is fine.
So, take the time to check on your friends and family, work colleagues who pass you by, the neighbour who lives alone. But ensure you are also checking your own mental health, finding time each day to think of yourself. Enjoy the sunny days and get through the darker ones and remember ‘It’s OK not to be Ok.’