Walking in the footsteps of refugees as Ellesmere art installation unveiled

Visitors to a north Shropshire beauty spot are being encouraged to walk in the footsteps of refugees following the completion of a winding labyrinth at The Mere in Ellesmere.

The official opening of the art installation
The official opening of the art installation

Leading to an oak carved sculpture of a refugee child trying to take shelter, it symbolises the terrifying and often perilous journeys into the unknown, taken by vulnerable children fleeing war, famine and the effects of climate change. The United Nations has estimated that there are now nearly 30 million refugees in the world, half of them under the age of 18.

The work is part of the Ellesmere Sculpture Initiative to mark Save the Children’s centenary and commemorate founders Eglantyne Jebb and her sister Dorothy Buxton.

The sisters, who were born less than a mile from The Mere, decided on direct action to provide food and medical aid to children left starving in Germany and other parts of central Europe at the end of World War I. The charity now operates in more than 100 countries.

Marker stones placed along the labyrinth have been inscribed with words in different languages – English, Kurdish and Rohingya – to convey the feelings of children displaced by conflict.

The idea for the labyrinth was inspired by children from seven local schools who took part in a series of briefing sessions and art workshops in which they were asked to imagine life as a refugee.

It has been developed with the help of Shrewsbury-based artists Sculpturelogic and laid out by ecological ground-workers Orchardfield. The area will be planted with shrubs and flowers to form the Jebb garden.

Two year old Lacey McEwan, from Shrewsbury, with her Grandad, Phil. Photo: David Atkinson.

Ellesmere’s mayor, Councillor Paul Goulbourne, praised the memorial art installation at an informal ceremony to mark its completion attended by the artists involved and members of the Jebb family, including Eglantyne’s great nephew, Lionel Jebb, and his son, Richard. Councillor Goulbourne said it was a fitting tribute to the two sisters and hoped it would attract more visitors to The Mere.

Artistic co-ordinator Trudi Graham said: “The school pupils have been amazing, and we have been deeply touched and impressed at the way in which they immediately identified with the plight of refugee children and their fears of being lost with nowhere to go. We hope visitors to The Mere will empathise in a similar way as they walk the labyrinth, and hopefully pause for a moment to think of those for whom there is no safe haven.

“Eglantyne and Dorothy spent a happy childhood in Ellesmere, where they learnt the values that influenced their lives as great humanitarians. Our project aims to recognise and raise awareness of the impact that their pioneering work has had in so many countries where Save the Children operates. It also shows that Ellesmere is proud of these two remarkable, far-sighted women, and that they should not be forgotten.”

The art installation – the latest addition to the Ellesmere Sculpture Trail – has been funded by grants from the Heritage Lottery Fund and Arts Council England, donations from local businesses and community organisations, and support from Shropshire Council and Ellesmere Town Council.

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