A STRIKING new large-scale art mural along the Leeds & Liverpool Canal in Leeds has been defaced in a thoughtless act of vandalism – less than 24 hours before it was due to be celebrated at a public unveiling.
But Canal & River Trust, who secured funding for the 25-foot artwork, is determined that the local and wider community will still be able to enjoy the mural, whether in its existing form, or in other creative ways.
The culmination of a European-funded social inclusion project, the mural is the longest artwork to be created along the Leeds & Liverpool Canal, England’s longest single canal looked after by Canal & River Trust, the UK’s largest waterway charity.
The mural has been created on a wall in Armley in an area known as Botany Bay, or Skinner’s Yard. The Trust has worked with partners and volunteers to improve this area over the years, including removing overgrown vegetation which provides cover for antisocial behaviour. It’s on a busy and well used section of the Leeds & Liverpool Canal, with thousands of visits each week by boaters, walkers, runners and cyclists.
The defacing of the mural highlights one of the ongoing challenges faced by Canal & River Trust as it strives to keep canals alive – with a spend of £1 million a year removing graffiti from across its 2,000-mile canal network. Graffiti and unsightly tagging can be a problem in hidden spots, particularly in urban areas.
Jet washing or painting over the graffiti often results in a ‘blank canvas’ for new graffiti, but elsewhere on the canal network community-supported art has been more effective in being left clear of tags. More than ever, the Trust is facing challenges to look after and maintain its canal network and having the opportunity to do projects like this mural is only possible with external funding.
Sharron Bright, community inclusion coordinator at Canal & River Trust, explained:
“We’re hugely proud of this fantastic new waterside mural, made possible by European Interreg funding – so, this defacing is hugely disappointing and a real shame, not only for canal users but also the local community, the artist and of course our funder.
“A year in the making, this mural is the final chapter in a three-year European funded ‘Isolation to Inclusion’ social prescribing project. Our aim was to help transform an unloved space into an eye-catching, heart-warming mural for the whole community to enjoy.
“We’ve been working with GPs and partners in West Yorkshire to help tackle isolation and loneliness, creating activities to bring people together, to introduce their local canal and to help share the mood-boosting benefits of being by water. We know how important being outdoors in nature, especially by water, can be to improve our mental health.
“There are many examples around our network where we have not had this kind of reaction to our street art works – research shows that community street art discourages antisocial behaviour and tagging*, and community artworks can help to break the cycle of graffiti and antisocial behaviour and cut the cost of cleaning up tags.
“Unfortunately, our mural been defaced but rather than ‘down tools’, this has inspired our charity and our volunteers to get the mural seen in other ways. The mural is an embodiment of how the canal contributes to wellbeing, so we want the majority of the community to be able to still enjoy it in whatever form that may be, whether on social media, a digital campaign, art boards along other parts of the canal or in other creative ways.
“Projects that tackle social isolation and get people active by the water help illustrate the importance of our canal network in today’s society and why, as a charity, we are working to #KeepCanalsAlive for boaters, for local people and for wildlife and nature.”
The mural has been created by 27-year-old local illustrator, artist & maker Jaydon Rowbottom. Taking inspiration from the artist’s own experience of waterways and his personal connection to Leeds & Liverpool Canal, the design features natural motifs and canal nature, from swans and reeds to flowers and bees.
Jaydon explained: “I’ve been aware of the work of the Canal & River Trust charity for some time, and I’ve always wanted to work with them. Being given this opportunity and to showcase my work on such a scale is fantastic. Canals and rivers have been a constant presence in my life. My mum’s relatives lived on canal boats, travelling along Oxford’s waterways and my dad would take us out canoeing and kayaking.
“I relocated to Leeds to study Graphic Art & Design at Leeds Beckett University in 2015, but it was only after graduating that I even realised there was a canal in Leeds! I needed a place to go to unwind and clear my mind and being able to walk along the towpath by water really helped – and still does.”