The Footbridge Project, a community arts initiative which, through a competition with residents in Rother and Hastings, has helped transform Bexhill’s railway footbridge into a colourful public open-air art gallery.
The Bexhill MP and Keane’s Tom Chaplin cut the ribbon to officially open the footbridge gallery at 12.15pm.
A flash mob from Lacey Theatre Arts also performed on the footbridge followed by more music from Zach LeCheminant and Alan Pettit.
Tom said: “What a treat it was to attend the opening of the Footbridge Gallery. After being cooped up for so long, to see the local community come out in force for such a noble project was a reminder of why we need creativity and why we need each other.”
Huw said: “I was delighted to be invited to be involved in the Footbridge Project in Bexhill. It has been a wonderfully inclusive project for the Bexhill community to get behind.
“Last Saturday’s official opening of the footbridge art gallery was a fantastic celebration. The bridge looks absolutely amazing; walking across it is a truly uplifting experience, truly a Crossing to Happier Times and a stark contrast to the grey and scruffy walkway it was previously.
“I should like to thank Diana and Tim Birch for their creativity and hard work which brought the project to reality with the help of their team of volunteers.
“Well done to everyone who submitted their artwork for the competition, the standard and diversity of the entries was incredible and made judging a really difficult task. Bexhill clearly has a huge amount of creative talent and its good to see it displayed long-term on the bridge.
”Thanks should also go to Tom Chaplin who was so giving of his time and gave everyone a lift with his kindness.”
In 2019, husband-and-wife duo Tim and Diana Birch conceived an idea to transform the Bexhill railway station footbridge into a colourful public open-air art gallery.
The aim of the project was to create a positive and lasting impact on the area, in a location which has fallen into disrepair in recent years, while making art in Bexhill more visible, accessible and inspiring for the community.
As the idea started to become a reality, with increasing local support, residents Claire Isted and Elise Liversedge joined the project team to move the initiative forward.
In March this year, the theme for the project, Crossing to Happier Times, was announced, which aimed to inspire creativity in a post-pandemic world.
A competition was subsequently launched and encouraged Rother and Hastings residents to submit artworks across a range of different mediums, including photography, painting, knitting, sculpture, and even sound.
The public response to the competition was overwhelming, with over 130 artworks submitted from people of all ages.
The 80 or so winning entries have been digitally ‘framed’ by Timothy Birch, who created 50 metres of artwork which has been printed by The Sussex Sign Company onto graffiti-proof vinyl and applied to the walls of the footbridge.
Tim said: “The communities of Rother and Hastings were invited first to select their favourite images followed in October 2021 by our patron, Hastings-born musician and Keane frontman Tom Chaplin, who was joined by fellow judges Huw Merriman, chairman of the Transport Select Committee and MP for Bexhill and Battle; Rupert Clubb, director of communities, economy and transport for East Sussex County Council; Stewart Drew, CEO of the De La Warr Pavilion; Howard Martin, president of Bexhill Chamber of Commerce & Tourism; Kate Richards, station manager Eastbourne & GTR; Carol Cook of W.ave Arts, and Viv Taylor Gee.
“This first installation was officially launched on Saturday by Huw Merriman with the help of our patron Tom Chaplin.
“It was a really fun and uplifting occasion with music, dance and great speeches by both our special guests and Diana, our founder.
“The Bexhill Lions kindly sent representatives to make sure the public were able to comfortably view the gallery and it was lovely to see people smiling and chatting to each other about the art.
“It is just the beginning of the story for the Footbridge Project, which will announce new themes for local residents to respond to and refresh artworks every two years.
“A special thanks to all of our partners and supporters who, by dedicating their time, resources and funding, have made what started out as a glimmer of an idea into a permanent public art installation for the local community. Without their tireless support, the project would not be where it is today.