Shropshire's mermaid trail shortlisted for national award

A community art initiative in Ellesmere featuring a flotilla of mermaid figures has been shortlisted for a national award.

Mermaid Seren Jeni Hall, of Gobowen, at The Mere, Ellesmere, with Jemima Jones, aged seven, of Ellesmere
Mermaid Seren Jeni Hall, of Gobowen, at The Mere, Ellesmere, with Jemima Jones, aged seven, of Ellesmere

More than 90 brightly-decorated creatures from the deep, aptly named 'meremaids', were put on show around the town centre this summer in a bid to attract more visitors, boost trade and encourage people to get involved with local library activities.

Now, the project, led by library assistant Sally Poynton, has been chosen by the Libraries Connected charity for the finals of its first annual awards, celebrating the achievements of people working in libraries.

It is one of six nominations shortlisted in the culture and creativity category. The winner will be announced at the charity’s annual seminar in Bedfordshire on October 19/20.

Staff at Vermeulen's with their figure. Photo: David Atkinson
Sally Poynton with her figure. Photo: David Atkinson

Sally, who came up with the idea before last year’s pandemic lock-down and spent months working on the project in her own time, said she was surprised and delighted.

“It’s wonderful that this great community effort has been recognised nationally and it’s a tribute to everyone involved. All those who have supported the project in so many ways should feel very proud. I’m looking forward to the awards ceremony in October. We’re competing against some very outstanding projects in other parts of the country, so even to be shortlisted is a great achievement.”

Using a template, Sally and her husband Alan spent countless hours cutting out MDF mermaid-shaped figures and handing them out for volunteers, including schoolchildren and community groups, to decorate individually with their own designs.

More than 40 shops and other businesses joined together to showcase the colourful artworks, creating an eye-catching figure-of-eight meremaid trail around Ellesmere town centre, taking in the town hall, library, medical centre, pubs and local churches.

Locals and visitors were invited to compete in a ‘spot the meremaid’ competition, and the festival also featured visits by professional mermaid performer Jeni Hall from Gobowen who took part in children’s events supporting the library’s summer reading challenge.

A spokesman for Libraries Connected, which was launched by the Society of Chief Librarians with support from Arts Council England, said: “Ellesmere Library’s Meremaid Trail initiative has boosted community connections, tourism, literacy and the local economy in one fell swoop this summer. This was a real community effort designed to draw visitors from the main mereside beauty spot into the small market town to see what’s on offer from local independent traders badly hit by the pandemic.”

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