A Window on Weston’s past and future

A window in Weston-super-Mare’s Sovereign Centre has been turned into a gallery of people’s memories and hopes for the town centre in a new cultural heritage project between Culture Weston and North Somerset Council’s Weston-super-Mare High Street Heritage Action Zone.

‘The Memory Bank’ project is part of a national initiative for the High Street Action Zone, being funded by Historic England to unlock the potential of high streets across England.

The art window installation is the culmination of ‘The Memory Bank’, a practical series of artist-led Zoom workshops inviting groups in Weston to share their past and present memories of the town and high street and re-imagine its future through art and craft-making.  

The creative project was launched during Heritage Open Days in September with a live Memory Bank set up in the High Street’s Italian Gardens where people could deposit their memories to the open archive.

This was followed by several Zoom sessions led by visual artist and social maker, Megan Clark-Bagnall and a team of artists, with different groups of participants in Weston invited to take part, including younger people, an inter-generational group and the LGBTQ+ community.

The LGBTQ+ session also featured guest appearances by drag artist Tess Drive and theatre-maker Tom Marshman who performed extracts from his critically-acclaimed show ‘Kings Cross (REMIX)’, as well as sharing memories of his time spent as a student at Weston College in the 90s.

The Zoom workshops were an inspiring mix of story gathering and memory sharing to find out what individuals value about Weston and how their hopes and dreams could inform future development of the town centre. Through a range of inventive resources including fun, bespoke activities, hand-delivered in specially created arts and crafts tool-kits for each participant, a series of Memory Bank films and creative exchanges on Zoom, participants archived memories of the town and bottled the essence of what Weston-super-Mare means to them now.

The three past, present and future films – ‘Mapping the Past with Jazz’ with disco and heritage Queen Jasmine Loveys, ‘Kindness Ripples with Ali’, with Queen of Kindness and director of ‘The Department of Kindness’ at Southmead Hospital, Ali Brown and ‘What could Work Shop?’ with contemporary artists Mona Bigwood and Carson Parker Fairley – were specially created for the Zooms and to provide wider access for the public. See https://cultureweston.org.uk/listings/the-memory-bank-over-to-you to take part.

The Memory Bank exhibition, featuring a range of artwork and material produced by participants through the Zoom sessions along with creative responses by Megan Clark-Bagnall, can be viewed in the side window of Unit 10a in the Sovereign shopping centre from December to the end of March 2021. The ambition is for this to become an ever-evolving window on Weston.

Artist Megan Clark-Bagnall said: “It is brilliant to be able to celebrate Memory Bank in a showcase at the Sovereign Centre for the whole community to see. The window exhibit shines a light on the generosity and creativity of all the participants as well as providing a beacon for the future of the town, where utopia is always on the horizon!”

Fiona Matthews, Creative Director at Culture Weston added: “The Memory Bank has been a wonderful and valuable opportunity to joyously, creatively and digitally consult with the community, galvanising an inclusive and collective vision for the future of Weston town centre, that ensures people are at the heart of the Council’s new placemaking strategy.”

Cllr Mark Canniford, Executive Member for Business, Economy and Employment at North Somerset Council, said: “The production of the Memory Bank shopfront is a celebration of Weston and the local community. In these difficult times, it is heartening to see our communities coming together to make such a strong art installation.”