No 4: Public Art in Swindon

No 4: Public Art in Swindon

A Plethora of Public Art

I’ve no idea how much public art other towns have but it seems to me that Swindon has an astonishing amount.

‘When I began blogging about Swindon, the public art was one of the first things I turned my keyboard to. Not that I even knew the term then. Back in the corner of Derbyshire I left behind, the closest I got to it was an ancient village pump, a cenotaph and a redundant and rusting pit-winding wheel. Hence, discovering all the public art in Swindon was quite the revelation. It’s not possible to write about all of it here but, if you’re so inclined, Born Again Swindonian contains oodles of posts about Swindon’s public art – in particular the West Swindon sculpture trail.

Taken from Secret Swindon.

The Per Cent for Art Scheme

Thamesdown Borough Council commissioned the pieces that comprise the West Swindon sculpture trail in the period from the early 1980s to the early 1990s. Funding came, in part, from the housing developer’s contributions to the Percent-for-Art public realm scheme.

My Sculpture Favourites

Within this blog I’ve written about much if Swindon’s sculpture and outdoor art installations. Thus there’s no point in my going over it all in this overview post. You should find it all in this section of the blog. But I will give special mention to a couple of my faves.

And one of my very favourite pieces is The Blondinis. Such a shame that they’re now languishing in a park in Gorse Hill. I still miss them.

Public Art in Swindon - The Blondinis sculpture
The Blondinis sculpture

Another firm favourite of mine is How the Might Fall – up on Shaw Ridge.

Part of the West Swindon Sculpture Walk this one is located on one of the many superb big green spaces that West Swindon features, it’s quite easy to forget that one is in the middle of a big conurbation. It needs little imagination to see the artist’s intention for the sculpture as a relic of a long gone civilization.

sculpture, aluminium and cast iron
How the Mighty Fall – 1989

For more posts about public art on this blog click here.

10 things to celebrate about Swindon

10 things to celebrate about Swindon

2 August 2015

canvas bags saying I read a blog and I liked it - 10 things to celebrate about Swindon

Back in 2013, when I conceived this blog, my starting point was 10 things to celebrate about Swindon.   

This was a non-definitive list, in no particular order, of things that I felt worth shouting about. The list encompassed parks, public art, artists, museums and even the buses. Though, TBH, I’ve changed my mind about the buses. (2020)

It’s now 2020 – and I’ve adjusted the list a little since its original conception. But most of what you see below still stands. The big exception is No 3 and I’ve changed that to make space for the GWR Railway Village. A couple of others have changed too – only to make the blog tidier. Not because the subject matter wasn’t still interesting.

Here’s the list of 10 Things to Celebrate About Swindon

1) Parks, gardens and green spaces. Swindon is teeming with green spaces and is packed with park life. It’s wonderful. There’s Queen’s Park, and the Secret Garden, there’s Town Gardens and Lydiard Park to name some of the ‘biggies’ but there seems to a green area of some description practically at every turn – Hagbourne Copse being a recent-ish discovery.

We are very, very lucky to live in such a green town. In that aspect at least.

Queen's Park
Queen’s Park

2) Number 2 on my list was the arts, culture and creativity that you can find in abundance in Swindon. In the initial list I focused on the poetry bus but now, several years on, I know of so much more – it’s pretty much endless. Off the top of my head there’s Artsite and the Post Modern and so much more.

On the buses

3) The buses – well okay – this isn’t entirely positive.  (As of 2017 Thamesdown Transport is under new ownership. Already the loathsome fast fare system that wasn’t fast and wasn’t fair has been removed. But it’s not a great system now for the size of the town.

So I’ve now removed this original entry to make space for something more worthy.

4) The Public Art: I LOVE that Swindon has so much public art. Okay some of it could be better cared for but it’s none the less interesting for all that. Hats off to the then Thamesdown Council who were responsible for installing much of it – notably the West Swindon sculpture walk. Read more posts about Swindon’s public art here: https://swindonian.me/category/public-art-sculpture/

Artists

5) Number 5 on my list had to be Swindon treasure Ken White.

Of course back then I’d heard nothing of David Bent and his fabulous work.

If you think you don’t know Ken’s work – his murals aside – you absolutely do because he created Virgin’s famed red lady emblem. Banksy? Who’s he?  But now I know about Tim Carroll and more besides.

6) The Museum of Computing: small but perfectly formed this is a little gem tucked away on Theatre Square. Always riding high on Trip Advisor it’s well worth a peek – geek or not.

7) The leisure facilities:  I left a small village in Derbyshire to come to Swindon. It was a bus ride to the nearest town – Worksop – and then a long trek across the town simply to access a swimming pool. Everything else was Sheffield. And that, without a car, was an EXPOTITION. So imagine my delight at pitching up somewhere with a swimming pool, an ICE RINK, and a multiplex cinema just up the road! Died and gone to heaven didn’t cover it.

8) The Magic Roundabout – come on – it’s gotta be in the list! It’s featured on the blog so much it even has its own category.  Writing about the Marmite of roundabouts for a travel writing module for my degree course helped me to a 1st – so I LOVE it.

9) Theatre and the Arts:  encompassing the Wyvern Theatre and the Arts Centre, Am-Dram, Gilbert and Sullivan, literature and poetry. What’s NOT to like?

10) This final entry in the Swindon top ten was a guest post from Brian Carter of Carter Collectables which was a celebration of the multi-cultural community we have in Swindon: https://swindonian.me/2013/09/17/10-things-to-celebrate-about-swindon-no-10-multicultural-swindon-much-to-be-proud-of/

Conclusion

So – all of this in a town where there’s nothing to do, nothing to see, nothing goes on, nothing happens and so on. Odd then that I’ve managed to fill a blog with all that nothingness.

No 10: Multicultural Swindon

No 10: Multicultural Swindon

10 things to celebrate about Swindon – No 10: Multicultural Swindon – much to be proud of

17th September 2013

Well dear readers, here we are with the last in my series of 10 things I think are worth celebrating about Swindon. In this one: multicultural Swindon.

It’s not by any means a definitive list. Merely 10 things that have made an impression on me. Any one of you out there could make a completely different and equally valid list. The point being, and as Brian so eruditely points out in his post, Swindon and Swindonians, have so much about which they should be proud.

It’s an odd thing …

It’s an odd thing, life. I had fully intended to round off my list with something about Swindon’s multicultural population and the Mela – I’m sure I’ve read somewhere that Swindon is an official microcosm of the whole country because any ethnic group you care to mention can be found here. But, whilst I knew that Brian was writing me a guest post I had no idea of the subject matter. I like it that way, I enjoy the surprise.

I could get all Forrest Gump here, except that you do know what’s in a box of chocolates cos there’s a ‘menu’ telling you – I always thought that was a rubbish analogy. So, to drag myself back to the point, unbeknownst to me Brian wrote his piece on that very subject, hence it earns a place as No 10 in things to celebrate about Swindon. I feel there should be some sort of trumpet fanfare at this point …. instead, and  without any further ado here’s a brief introduction to Brian Carter, the author of this lovely guest post which I hope you will enjoy as much as I have.

Brian Carter

‘Brian Carter was born in Swindon in 1961. Raised in Upper Stratton, Brian has lived all his life in Stratton or Swindon.  

He’s traced his family tree back at least eight generations and discovered that a large proportion of his ancestors were also born in and around the town.

Dozens of them (including his father and both his grandfathers) worked for the Great Western Railway and/or British Railways in Swindon.

“Swindon is an easy target for lazy comedians and miserable people who would have you believe that it’s a bland concrete jungle inhabited by soulless people – a town devoid of culture, heritage or human values. We hear such views so often that we could be forgiven if we started to believe them. But when a ‘foreigner’ from ‘up north’ creates a blog intent on extolling its virtues, we’re thankfully brought back to our senses. 

Born Again Swindonian doesn’t wait for the inevitable negativity and counter with a reply. Instead, it shouts its positivity and affection for Swindon from the rooftops.

In 1997 I created SwindonWeb with the same attitude. And although I passed on the baton several years ago, I’m happy and proud to report that SwindonWeb has never broken the golden rule set down at its inception: that it would always be 100% positive about Swindon.

A Swindon fault-line

Ironically, if Swindon has a fault, then it is that it doesn’t ‘blow its own trumpet’ often enough. For example, consider the Great Western Railway (GWR). Unless they’re blinded by their own local loyalties, most railway enthusiasts acknowledge the GWR as the jewel in the crown of Britain’s great pioneering railway heritage.

And Swindon was, of course, the beating heart of ‘God’s Wonderful Railway’. But Swindon often seems strangely embarrassed of even that. Few other towns would be so reticent in claiming its part in such excellence. Maybe oily, smoky, noisy steam locomotives (however beautiful) just aren’t cool in these modern times. Or perhaps Swindonians are just reluctant to hark back to the past.

 Aside from its wonderful railway history, there are many rich and diverse aspects to Swindon’s past.

  Swindon is at last beginning to show pride in its past, but is it also concentrating on promoting its present? Well, not really. There’s still much work to do before Swindon overcomes this flaw in its character. It still needs some convincing that it really does have much to be proud of. A perfect example of something which Swindon excels at, but doesn’t give itself credit for – is its unswerving embracing of multiculturalism. It is an admirable quality, but taken for granted here. As discussed in recent editions of Swindon Heritage magazine, its positive attitude to diversity is something which Swindon has developed over the years. 

A Town Transformed

In the 1840s, Swindon was transformed from a small agricultural town to a large industrial one. This happened at a rapid (almost brutal) pace. Several waves of influxes of workers from Wales, the Midlands and elsewhere brought with them subtle religious and cultural variations. But Swindon quickly accepted those differences – adopting the attitude that they enriched, rather than diluted, the town’s character. The relocation of Londoners to our town after the Second World War met with no difficulties. And many Irish, Italian and Polish people happily settled here in the post-war years. More recently, Asian influences have added yet more colour to Swindon life. It seems entirely appropriate that Swindon has associations with not one but three twin towns. Our connection with Torun has reinforced the link with Poland, and there’s an unlikely but welcome connection with Ocotal in Nicaragua. 

mural on wall of sports centre - Multicultural Swindon
Mural in Swindon Link Centre celebrating the town’s twinning with Octotal.

Any animosity towards the German people following the Second World War washed away with a pioneering connection with the town of Salzgitter.

And I have personal reasons for being thankful that the people of our two towns have developed a strong and lasting friendship. Swindon’s multiculturalism knows no bounds.

Diversity

In the past and in the present, the human race has struggled with diversity. Evil-minded politicians concentrate on the differences between people in order to alienate, persecute and exploit them. Swindonians see things very differently. And, if you wanted an example of how, you need look no further than the Swindon Mela. They have Melas in other places, of course. It’s part of the Asian character to celebrate its culture and heritage, and so other towns and cities with Asian communities have similar events to the one which took place in Swindon last weekend. But there’s something especially endearing about Swindon’s Mela: it has been so totally and enthusiastically embraced by the non-Asian people of Swindon.

Consider this

It’s a remarkable thing, which is worth considering for a moment. Thousands of people turn up for this annual event. They have an incredibly wide-ranging mix of cultures and beliefs, and yet there isn’t the slightest hint of racial, cultural or religious tension. Far from it. The people of Swindon (from all backgrounds) attend the Mela because they’re interested.And because they appreciate the differences between each other.

Swindonians really do celebrate diversity. And this gives Swindon Mela a wonderful, happy, peaceful atmosphere. And yet it almost didn’t happen this year. Swindon Borough Council, mystifyingly felt the need to try to prevent it taking place. There was some ironic talk that this definitive community event had become ‘too successful’. But the people of Swindon were having none of it.

Public outcry forced the Council to back-track and, thankfully, saved the Mela. Maybe that little hiccup will prove to be a good thing in the long run. Surely no one will dare mess with the Swindon Mela again?

Modern Swindon has much to be proud of, but its tolerance, understanding and acceptance of other people are some of the things of which it should be most proud.

Swindonians might sometimes be a ‘bit backward in coming forward’. Yet there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that, deep down, they’re really just nice people.”

Swindon Web has a lovely report with masses of fab photos of the 2013 Mela.

No 9: David Bent Artist

No 9: David Bent Artist

It’s something of a cheat putting David Bent artist into this list of ten things to celebrate about Swindon. Not because he doesn’t warrant inclusion – good gracious me no. Nothing could be further from the truth. No, no. What I mean by it being a bit of sleight of hand is that, when I set up this blog and created the aforementioned celebratory list a few years ago now, David wasn’t on it. Why not? Well because I didn’t know him and hadn’t heard of him back then.

During the last few weeks I’ve engaged myself in some blog housekeeping – I can’t say the same for my actual house – that sadly lacks housekeeping. But I digress. While doing said housekeeping I decided to rejig my Swindon top ten to include David. And that gave me the perfect chance to share this lovely article from the Royal Aero Society: Capturing the Art of Flight which tells all about David as well as I can. And I’m a big fan of not reinventing the wheel.

See more posts about David Bent artist here.

David Bent artist choosing swindon - David Bent and 'Circus'
David Bent and ‘Circus’

A bit about David’s work

To refer to the aforementioned article:

‘His original paintings include striking geometric shapes, bold colours and the fusing of aspects of the human and machine in lots of interesting and clever ways.

Iconic shapes of classic aircraft are reused and repurposed to create patterns, or even produce landscapes themselves.

Bent mainly works in acrylics on canvas for his paintings but also produces photo-collages, and at one point in his career even painted street murals.’

In the photograph above, David stands with a work called ‘Circus’. The author of the article talks about that same work and the double meanings ever-present in David’s art: the more you look the more you see.

‘A number of the paintings also have a double or hidden meaning within. Some challenge. David frames the twin images of an MQ-9B Reaper UAV with a series of black boxes. This suggests that the sinister drone is watching (or being watched) by someone in a traditional Middle East hajib.

In another example, he depicts the Red Arrows under a circus big top tent. A clear play on ‘the circus’ of blue-suited ground-crew that keep the aircraft aloft and the team flying. Look closer and you can also see the Dye Team, responsible for the Hawk’s coloured smoke. David’s painting celebrates everyone’s contribution and teamwork. In another painting, featuring Spitfires, the artist’s humour appears as he places himself in a tiny Johnny Red-style comic strip detail running from the aircraft.’

So much more than aviation art

It’s arguable that David is best known for his aviation art. Indeed he’s done much to advance the genre. But of course he does so much more. One of my very favourite pieces – well in fact a series of pieces – is Movement 2000:

Swindon: artistic cornucopia

Over the years, Swindon has produced an astonishing amount of artists of all kinds – and still does. An astonishment I gave voice to in Secret Swindon (published in 2018).

Some of these artists are Swindon born. Others are Born Again Swindonians like me. Either way – there’s so much wonderful artistic output that’s ‘Made in Swindon’. How wonderful is that?

Being a fan of much of David’s work, I love that I can include him in my own, personal, and not-definitive by any means, 10 Things to Celebrate About Swindon.

See also: https://swindonian.me/category/artscultureheritage/ – root around there and you’ll find posts about art and artists and all manner of marvellousness.

Also worthy of your interest on this broad field:

No 8: The Magic Roundabout Traffic System

No 8: The Magic Roundabout Traffic System

Yes! The Magic Roundabout traffic system. As featured heavily in Secret Swindon.

 It’s a bit like Marmite. But whether you love it, hate it or are indifferent to it you certainly can’t ignore this counterflow roundabout.

On a counterflow roundabout, traffic in the inner circle circulates counter-clockwise while the outer circle goes conventionally clockwise.

Where the name came from

A quick rootle round Google will bring up all manner of information about this traffic system but our very own Swindon Web has a niece piece about it: ‘Until September 1972, there was only one Magic Roundabout and it was a children’s television programme featuring Dougal the dog, a hippy rabbit called Dylan and the spring-loaded Zebedee….’  That was certainly my knowledge and understanding of that term until I moved to Swindon.

When this roundabout first appeared on Swindon’s urban landscape it bore the moniker: The County Island’s Roundabout. But the locals were quick to dub it the magic roundabout. The nickname stuck and the authority bowed to the inevitabe.

The Magic Roundabout road sign

Opened in 1972, the roundabout is now rather famous/notorious/ – delete as applicable. It’s definitely iconic in either event.

It’s celebrated here in Swindon – in the central library all manner of Magic Roundabout souvenirs are available from T-Shirts to tea towels.

Located near the County Ground football stadium – hence its original name – its unusual design consists of five mini-roundabouts arranged around a sixth central, anti-clockwise roundabout. 

The Magic Roundabout traffic system - Magic roundabout mosaic
Magic roundabout mosaic by Swindon mosaic artist Lynette Thomas

It even inspired – allegedly – the song ‘English Roundabout’ by Swindon band XTC. So who needs Thorpe Park and Alton Towers when here’s our very own white-knuckle ride!  🙂

See also: Swindon’s magic roundabout – Swindon viewpoint.  And for more posts on this Magimix of traffic systems go here.

No 7: Swindon leisure facilities

No 7: Swindon leisure facilities

10 things to celebrate about Swindon. No 7: The leisure facilities

Swindon Leisure facilities represented the land of milk and honey to me and my then 12-year-old daughter when we pitched up here in the early 1990s.

We left a small village in Derbyshire, a part of the country left ravaged and war-torn (and that’s not too strong a term) by the miners’ strike and the Tory government.  Not only were there no jobs and no prospects there was nothing to do and nowhere to go unless you had a car which I didn’t. Once Meadowhall and Cystal Peaks opened in the Sheffield areas,  our local town of Worksop, simply died.

Swindon: The Land of Milk and Honey

So imagine then, how it felt to pitch up in a town that offered, within a ten-minute walk of my home: a cinema, and a swimming pool. Even more exotic than that though, a bowling alley, an ice -rink and a Pizza Hut!  All in one place. Wow.

You can’t begin to imagine the excitement. Add to that a decent shopping centre – a Debenhams, a C&A and an M&S and many more besides, a mere 15 minute bus ride away instead of the two buses and very lengthy trek to Sheffield for a similar shopping experience. Chesterfield and Mansfield were more accessible. But it was Sheffield you needed for C&A and Cole Brothers and the like.  So this was a metropolis indeed!

 Moreover almost zero unemployment that time.  I simply could not believe the ease with which I found work! Not only a metropolis then, but, as far as I was concerned, the land of milk and honey.  And all of this contributes enormously to the affection I feel for this town.

Swindon Leisure facilities - the health hydro

Other Swindon Leisure Facilities

Furthermore of course there’s the Oasis and Dorcan and Croft and Milton Road.  And there’s all the parks and green spaces and a theatre and an arts centre.  Of course since my arrival here there’s been the Greenbridge and Orbital developments and soon we’ll have the new set-up at Regent’s Circus. A veritable cornucopia indeed.

So yeah, I know the town is not without its problems and faults but I’ll never forget how it felt to arrive here and find so many wonders right on my doorstep. I thought it was wonderful then and, even though the town centre is perhaps not what it once was, I still do.

See more posts in the series Ten Things To Celebrate About Swindon.