When Well Doncaster first started talking to people in Denaby in 2015, one thing kept coming up; ‘We want Grays Court to look and feel better’. What is Grays Court you ask? It is the main shopping area in Denaby and one of its busiest areas.
To really understand what residents wanted, local social enterprise Aspiring2 partnered with the Tinder Foundation to carry out community consultation on the subject. They set up in the Hot Chocolate Lounge, the local café, for ten days and spoke with customers and pedestrians to find out how they used Grays Court and what they thought would enhance it.
A key theme was that the area needed brightening up and residents liked the idea of a mural or mosaic which highlighted Denaby’s history. With this in mind Well Doncaster set about commissioning an artist to design a bespoke piece of art for Grays Court along the more than 33 metre wall that runs the length of the precinct.
Find the full report Grays Court Consultation Responses
Doncaster artist Mandy Keating from Artfuel was awarded the commission and she set about visiting the local primary schools, youth clubs, local cafes, coffee mornings and groups to deliver workshops where residents could not only share their ideas for the design but also have a go at applying different styles and techniques to their designs.
Mandy is our guest blogger today and will explain her experience of creating painting the mural in Denaby;
“When I was commissioned to design & paint a mural at Grays Court, through initial consultation with the public, I decided to run simple workshops with the school children. As I would be using stencils in transferring the design to the wall, I decided to show the children how to create their own stencils & transfer their images, which worked really well. Then I asked them to tell me about Denaby, its history, landmarks, what they liked best about it. Finally they drew their own version of a mural they would like to paint, if they were doing the work themselves.
Mural designs from local primary school children
I also met up with some adult groups, where it was apparent that a better approach with them was just to chat to them about Denaby, their happiest memories and what is important to them about Denaby. I began to take photos of the people I chatted with, as what was becoming apparent to me was the sense of community and people rather than place being most important.
When I collated all of the wording, drawings and photos, the image that came to mind was of a ‘street’ scene, showing buildings of Denaby past and present, along with a diverse mix of people of all ages performing different activities in this scene. I wanted to create a fairly simple clean-cut design as there would be a lot to look at with what I had planned. I also wanted to use colours that would complement each other and brighten up the wall as that was something else that had come out of the consultation.
The wall measures over 33 metre long and 2.5 metre high, so it gave me plenty of scope for design. I added buildings that were the most talked about and/or important in Denaby’s history. I added the wheel and the pit pony to symbolise the pit. This one was tough because I had to decide whether or not to add a pit but which one? Caedby is the one most people remember as it closed down more recently, in around 1984. Denaby pit closed down around sixty years ago so many people hadn’t even seen it.
When I produced a large print out of the design for people to look at and comment on, I only had one person (not from Denaby) saying that a pit should feature on the wall too. Comments were overwhelmingly favourable about the design with very little change to it”.
“Once the design was finalised, I sent the foreground images (mostly people) to a laser-cutting company to cut stencils for me. I cut stencils of the buildings & background images. While that was happening, the wall was primed ready for me to paint onto it. I drew out the different background lines with chalk and then painted the different colours in between the lines.
On paper this sounds easy and straightforward. In practice it was a massive job, given how long the wall is. Also what added to the work was the brick surface itself being very pitted. I had some help from young children who did a brilliant job of getting paint on the wall.
The most interesting part of painting the mural had to be the conversations I had with local and not so local people. I felt that at the start people had more misgivings about the mural; the quality of it and it becoming vandalised throughout or at the end of the process. As time wore on and I became somewhat of a fixture, people began to respond to the progress of the mural and to me. I wish that I had thought to record the conversations because I had some lovely chats with people.
There was Jim with his ukelelee and picallili; Jackie with her knitting on a grand scale for children in poorer countries; John who had dubbed himself Victor Meldrew and had serious misgivings about the mural initially but became one of my biggest supporters; Luke, Josh and Bailey, the ‘naughty’ boys; Brian and his wife from All Saints church who had helped to raise nearly £50,000 through their coffee mornings and sales; an American lady who had moved with her husband and children to Denaby with work and considered it a much friendlier place than the posh ‘stuck-up’ place they had previously lived in; the ninety plus year old former postmistress who had lived in Denaby all her life and could remember all of the buildings I painted on the mural; the twenty-something young gentleman who was interested in art and was going to art college. I was told of the (Jeremy) Clarkson family’s connection to Denaby, having owned the Kilner Glass works, Kilner glass now being very well known worldwide.
The Hot Chocolate Lounge kindly kept me warm with their fabulous hot chocolates and lunches and amusing swapped stories – mention Mandy’s DIY story to Libby, Jo, Shannon or Megan and they’ll know what you mean! People looked out for me, helped me set up the cones when they’d been knocked over and looked after items when I left them behind by mistake”.
The design included silhouettes of figures representing the diverse hobbies, talents and interests of the community, ranging from little children to the older generation. Mandy was keen to use real Denaby people in the images as much as possible to make it a true reflection of Denaby-However,actually getting the stencils of the figures on the wall proved to be a bigger challenge then you might think!
“Once the background was painted on I thought I’d done the hardest bit and that the stencils would be fairly easy. Not so. I battled with wind and cold walls and large paper and plastic stencils which acted like windsocks, filling up and being blown around uncontrollably. Then the tape didn’t like sticking to the cold walls and the large plastic stencils were quite heavy. Once I found a wider, stickier tape and taped every edge down, it was a little easier. I’m sure more than one passerby heard me mutter a few expletives as I single-handedly tried sticking large and unwieldy stencils to the wall!
The stencils were large and heavy and Mandy battle cold weather, an uneven wall and only having two hands to get the stencils up, so she recruited some helpers.
Choosing which people to put into the mural was hard because I got some great photos of local people in different poses – more than I needed really. I wanted to make sure there was a balance so that it wasn’t biased in favour of one particular age group or type of activity. I looked at what people seemed most interested in or just did and the results showed on the final design.
What was interesting was that some images of people were very recognisable, such as Deacon riding a scooter and probably helped to secure support from some of the younger residents. The ladies having a cuppa were so impressed when they saw their images on the mural that they declared the Hot Chocolate Lounge, where I had photographed them, to be their favourite café and they would tell all their friends about it too.
Whilst the image of Jim, the older gentleman with his walking stick, was claimed to be several other older gentlemen in Denaby! The young girl walking her dog was also claimed by two other people, one of whom was convinced it was her even though we hadn’t met before. When the said young girl came to look at the mural I didn’t see her approaching as I was painting. I just heard a shriek (and nearly fell off my ladder as a result) as she realised it was her. When I turned around she had a big smile on her face and said she was made up to be on the wall. If only it was so easy to make everyone that happy! Ben who was the helmet clad character on a bike wasn’t recognisable as his face was hidden by the helmet, however, he knew it was himself as he remembered me taking photos of him and in fact had come into Tom Hill Youth Centre specially so I could photograph him. Again, once people knew it was him lots of people came to see the mural.
I liked that people claimed ownership of a character on the wall. To me it meant acceptance of the design and ownership of it too.
I have enjoyed the conversations immensely, which would initially be about the mural but mostly go on to other subjects, anecdotes, history of Denaby and local legends.
The Well Doncaster Team rolled up their sleeves, braved the cold and picked up a paint brush to help Mandy
When I first started the project, I was worried that I would be seen as an interloper, someone who didn’t belong there however, I was made to feel very welcome and comfortable, even by younger people, whom were seen by some as vandals who would destroy the mural. In fact, the mural wasn’t touched once during my time there even when the cones were knocked over. I would like to think it was a mark of respect that stopped anyone attempting to vandalise the mural and an appreciation that I ‘got’
people in Denaby.
In fact, the mural wasn’t touched once during my time there even when the cones were knocked over. I would like to think it was a mark of respect that stopped anyone attempting to vandalise the mural and an appreciation that I ‘got’ people in Denaby. My respect for residents of Denaby in turn has been to adopt their nickname ‘Banksy’s Wife’ as my ‘tag’ for this and future work. Who’d have known I would get so much from a project like this?”
One of the concerns which came out through the consultation and whilst Mandy was painting was that it might get vandalised with graffiti. To combat this and put people’s minds at ease, the mural was given a coat of anti-graffiti paint which protects the mural and any graffiti can just be washed off, protecting the mural for years to come.
Once the mural was completed the whole community was invited to celebrate at the Hot Chocolate Lounge, the local café on Grays Court which looks out on to the mural. Everyone was treated to scones and a hot drink as we celebrated Denaby’s past whilst looking forward to its future.
You can find the mural here-come and visit
You can contact Mandy on 07762 837196 or at firstname.lastname@example.org