Words by Jobe Baker-Sullivan / Pics by Ed King
Ed’s note… this is a community story; the Erdington mural is a community endeavour – many local groups and individuals played a part in this beautiful project. We are focusing on the community.
For this article, Erdington Local was invited to a group photo opportunity – as organised by the project’s steering group. Our aim was to follow up from our original story and document the spirit of unity that the project reflects – understanding the individuals featured in article (or group photo) are not the only people involved.
We appreciate there will have been those who were unable to attend, but we thank and recognise everyone who helped make Erdington that little bit brighter.
The Erdington Mural project is complete. Having turned an “eyesore” of hoardings into a community-involved, professional art display, many of the artists and organisers gathered together for a celebratory (and socially distanced) photo for Erdington Local.
“I think this is fantastic – it’s great!” praises Rob Gunnell, founder of Erdington Litter Busters [ELB], “it doesn’t just add colour, it supports a connection to the community – and it’s also saying, Erdington’s a good place.” Along with many other organisations, ELB assisted in ‘priming’ the site before the four commissioned artists set to work on painting on the boards.
“Our contribution was to apply the white paint – the base,” explains Dawn Edwards, another ELB member, “then we cut down the overgrown branches and Birmingham City Council took away all the bags of greenery.”
The project was funded by Mercia Real Estate, the owners of the site, as well as Active Arts – via the Erdington Arts Forum.
Erdington Local covered the story of those involved with the project at its inception – and whilst the original impetus is somewhat contested, the final project is as vibrant a representation of community spirit as the artwork itself.
Erdington Local caught up with the four artists who were tasked with bringing the boards to life – each one taking a separate side for their original design. Whilst each artist is unique, each of them noted the positive feedback they received for their work.
“I’ve seen a few pictures put up [on the internet] of kids standing in front of it,” notes Steve Allen, pleased with the social media pick up. Steve painted the ‘Welcome to Erdington’ side of the mural, which includes a big ‘thank you’ to the NHS and what is purported to be the coat of arms of Erdington.
“I got a lot of positive feedback from when I was doing my painting,” echoes Abian Richards, responsible for the rather psychedelic take on Erdington’s Witton Lakes – featured on the small segment by York Road.
This was to celebrate Erdington’s many ‘green spaces’, with an interesting interpretation: “I chose to use blues, pinks and purples to get some vibrancy into the piece.”
The project proved to be an excellent incubator for local talent, with Keely Iqbal admitting “it was quite challenging because it was my biggest mural to date.”
She painted the striking ‘historical Erdington’ on Sutton New Road – complete with an image of a spitfire, a horse and carriage, Rookery House, and the esteemed Mothers nightclub.
Such a large undertaking was not without its challenges, as Keely continues: “I was painting and then it started pouring down with rain! All of the paint started running everywhere. It was so bad. I did all of this lettering – there was a delay, but I managed to catch up with it.”
It was even a learning curve for experienced artist Edward Thrush: “Fly posters are hellish – I hate them! I won’t use those again. There’s been a lot of maintenance!”
Edward created the eye-catching ‘It’s all Go, Go, Go in Erdington!’ piece on Summer Road, celebrating the various community groups in the local area. Edward especially praised how “the volunteers were amazing – they were really good help.”
Councillor Gareth Moore, who had been helping whitewash the boards – along with fellow Erdington Councillor Robert Alden – explains how the piece is “visually appealing and significantly improved the site in question given its prominent location.”
Likewise, Robert Alden tells how “it’s been a really great community project, pulling together people across Erdington. It’s celebrating our heritage, our history and the culture of Erdington.”
Erdington Local overheard Dawn Edwards from ELB prodding Sam Clark, a founder and current CEO of Mercia Real Estate, about some potential future projects on the land. Especially advocating for the intended retail space to have greenery.
“This project is just an example of what the community can do in terms of improving the area,” Dawn reflects, “there was nothing on the boards and now there is that reflects Erdington. Watch out! More to come.”
Mercia Real Estate acquired the Maplin site following the closure, a spokesperson from the Birmingham based real estate and asset management company said:
“Mercia Real Estate acquired the site in 2018 with a view to redeveloping the buildings into a terrace of convenience retail units.
“Whilst this has been in planning we were approached by community leaders earlier this year who had expressed an interest in creating various murals on the site hoarding.
“Wherever we invest we are always keen to engage with the community and in this case were happy to extend a donation to support the creativity of the various groups involved.”
For more on Steve Allen, visit www.nozzleandbrush.co.uk
For more on Abian Richards, visit www.facebook.com/faffabout
For more on Keely Iqbal, visit www.keelyiqbal.com
For more on Edward Thrush, visit www.elthrush.com
For more on Mercia Real Estate, visit www.merciarealestate.com
For more on Active Arts, visit www.activearts.wordpress.com