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Pickering Poppies In Peace
Rosie Goodwin and Ella Voce
Imagine 500 blood-red poppies, each the size of a dinner plate, personally crafted by 500 children, aged from 6 to 11, from 8 schools across Ryedale. If you could get that together, as part of the co-ordinated commemoration of the centenary of the ending of the Great War, it would be quite an achievement, never forgotten by those who made contributions.

This was the conception of Rosie Goodwin, community artist, arts organiser and founder of MakeMore Arts, a company dedicated to providing arts engagement opportunities in Ryedale and further afield. The Arts Council approved of the idea and gave her a Project grant, allowing her to collaborate with local artist Karen Thompson as well as to run some additional workshops across the community.

‘We wanted to give children the opportunity to create their own exhibition in a professional space,’ she explains with pride. What she and the local schools have achieved, now on display at the Beck Isle Museum of Rural Life, in Pickering, is a moving and poignant commemoration.

No stranger to inspiring large numbers of children in her former role managing education at Scarborough Museums’ Trust, she founded her own company and currently works closely with cultural organisations, museums and schools, running workshops to inspire the artists and storytellers of the future.

She leads me through the Grade 2-listed building to the museum’s activities’ room crowded with exhibits that would have still been around in 1918, a washing tub and mangle, a clothes horse, a bagatelle, even an abacus. I perch down on one of the benches at a low desk complete with inkwell into which generations of children must have dipped their pen-nibs, and look at the walls.

They are festooned with big red flowers, not plain poppies, though, each being entwined with other symbols taken from the world of art iconography that she’s taught the children. There are dandelions, for example, representing hardship overcome, pink roses and daffodils for hope, borage for courage and oak leaves symbolising strength.

‘Pickering has got a war memorial, right opposite the museum,’ she says, ‘ commemorating those who fell in two world wars, so we wanted to remember those who came home as well; obviously, they wouldn’t have felt like the same men who went to war. Their experiences must have had profound impacts on them.’

Rosie shared with the children the stories of local soldiers who survived against all the odds, their lives changed by their experiences. One such was sixteen-year-old Sydney Jackson, the apprentice gardener who lied about his age in order to join up. He was badly wounded but survived and later, to pay back in some way the medical treatment that had saved his life, he became one of the earliest male nurses. For her information, Rosie has drawn on the recent research conducted by the volunteers and trustees of the museum, who have been very supportive with the project. Rosie is asking visitors to share their own stories, thoughts or sketches, in a comments book, displayed as part of the exhibition.

‘When working with the children, it immediately became clear,’ she says, ‘that this was a topic that held a fascination. Almost every teacher commented on their excellent behaviour during the storytelling workshop, which was the stimulus for the poppies. They really wanted to listen to the tales of real, local heroes. Many of them had heard about their relatives, often a great-grandfather, who had fought.’

The exhibition opens on the 5th of November and runs for three weeks until the 24th. Normal admission prices apply but it’s free on the last day, when a large crowd is expected.

‘Hundreds of children have worked on this and if even half of them come with their families, we are going to be busy,’ Rosie says. ‘We want to make this a celebration of those who survived, but also to provide a space for reflection, to pause to ask a question that still resonates today – how must it feel to come back?’

An enormous amount of work has obviously gone into this and no one, young or old, who sees it is likely to ever forget it.

Poppies In Peace is at Beck Isle Museum Of Rural Life, Pickering, from the 5th to the 24th November.

Pickering Poppies In Peace, 5th November 2018, 11:41 AM