A billboard-sized piece of street art has been unveiled in Rochdale Central Library as part of a nationwide project to create a unique and online response to the First World War.
Rochdale Borough Council is one of ten local authorities across the country to take part in and contribute to the first phase of the Digital War Memorial which has enabled public libraries to give a wide range of community groups the opportunity to work with artists to create their own highly individual response to the First World War.
Lead Member for the Armed Forces, Councillor Alan McCarthy, said: “This is a great way for the borough to get involved in a national project, commemorating something which has a huge significance for everyone’s lives in the borough. The mixture of new technology and history has created such a wonderful final piece.”
Earlier this year, Year 8 pupils from Matthew Moss High School and Holy Family RC and CE College met to discuss the project with service veteran Harry Mills, artist Liam Dean and Young Persons’ Library Worker Ray Stearn.
Mr Mills spoke of what it is like being a serviceman. He shared military artefacts with the young people as well as his wealth of knowledge, which kept them enthralled. These stories, as well as photographs, letters from service personnel in Afghanistan and a gas mask, triggered powerful connections with the past making it feel more immediate and relevant to today.
After the meeting, the young people wrote about their interpretation of what they had seen and heard. The array of words from the pupils formed the basis for the artwork created by Liam Dean and for two poems by Ray Stearn. Dawn Pierson from Chance Media filmed Mr Dean as he worked on the painting, resulting in an inspiring record of how the artwork was created, which also features the poems as a soundtrack.
Across the country, each of the local projects has been captured digitally and will be the foundation for a national memorial that will continue to build over the four years of commemoration, 2014-2018. Each project started with the rich and diverse materials held by public libraries and archive services – photographs, newspapers, letters and other documents. Community groups then worked with artists using poetry, dance, music, writing and visual arts to reflect on the impact of the First World War and how it resonates a century later.
Representatives of the Rochdale piece, including Philip Cooke (Operations Manager Customer Access), veteran Harry Mills, artist Liam Dean and Chance Media film-maker, Dawn Pierson, travelled to the British Library in London for the official launch of the Digital War Memorial. Ed Vaizey MP, Minister for Culture and Digital Economy, launched the Digital War Memorial and said:
“The Government’s programme to mark the Centenary of the First World War is centred on remembrance, education and youth. So this project is especially welcome, and all the more relevant for using digital technology to preserve, present and interpret century-old material for young people today. I hope that every library service in the country will be inspired by these first projects to create their own contribution to the Digital War Memorial. This is another great example of what public libraries can achieve when they work together.”
Rochdale Libraries were awarded £9,000 to fund the project, some of which will be used to reproduce the artwork and display it at other locations across the borough.
Anybody wishing to view Rochdale’s artwork, the accompanying short film and the pieces by other local authorities can visit www.digitalwarmemorial.com. The art, poems and information related to the project is currently displayed in Rochdale Central Library.
The council signed the Armed Forces Community Covenant in 2012, aimed at encouraging local communities to support services that promote and encourage activities to help integrate armed forces personnel back into civilian life.
Current or ex-Armed Forces personnel can register for help or get more information by visiting www.rochdale.gov.uk/armedforces. If they encounter difficulties when accessing services from the council or its partners they can email email@example.com or call the council on 01706 926989.
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