A specially commissioned artwork has been installed along a multi-user path in Shepton Mallet to mark the Covid-19 lockdowns, and the importance active travel had on people’s lives during that time.
The art commission by Somerset artist, Michael Fairfax, features a series of bronze plaques representing different forms of active travel, including walking, cycling and horse riding. There’s also one depicting the Covid virus itself.
A selection panel consisting of local authority and town council members, together with a specialist in contemporary arts, met last year to consider submissions by four Somerset artists. The panel selected Michael Fairfax to complete the commission based on his designs for the plaques and his track record for completing similar commissions across other counties.
The plaques, which were carved into oak by the artist before casting, have been securely fixed in the path.
As a local touch, Clarks (the shoemakers) lent the artist a traditional wooden shoe Last (a solid form around which a shoe or boot is moulded), which he then used as inspiration for the feet which feature so prominently on the plaques. The Shepton path ends at the retail park where the Clarks factory was located before it closed in the 1990s.
Cllr Liz Leyshon, Deputy Leader of the Council and Lead Member for Resources and Performance, said:
We think this may be one of the first local authority art commissions in the country that marks Covid-19 and the growth of active travel in this way.
It’s been a pleasure to work with Michael Fairfax and the wonderful volunteers of Greenways & Cycleroutes to bring this project to life.
These plaques remind us that although the pandemic was devastating, there were some positive outcomes, for example the way we valued being outdoors and getting closer to nature.
The Council will work to open more multi-user paths across Somerset so people can experience the joy, freedom and safety they bring to communities, in good times and bad.
A project volunteer said:
This is one of the most rewarding sections of path I’ve worked on because of the reaction of people walking along and saying what a wonderful route it is to the town centre.
The plaques can be seen embedded in the multi-user path between Collett Park, across the Somerset Council office car park at Cannards Grave, winding under the Historical Railways Estate (HRE) bridge and then on to Townsend Retail Park.
The path was constructed by Greenways & Cycleroutes and local contractors MP & KM Golding Ltd, with funding from the former Mendip District Council and Somerset Council. It’s part of the Strawberry Line and Somerset Circle.
National Highways arranged a ‘permissive agreement’ that enabled the creation of this active travel route, working closely with HRE, the Department of Transport and the former Mendip District Council.
To find out more about The Strawberry Line, visit: www.thestrawberryline.org.uk.