Love Barnsley

About the project

We've launched the COVID memorial project, which includes a memorial sculpture and tribute to key workers, to recognise the impact of COVID-19 and help people come to terms with the sheer enormity of the pandemic.

One of the first towns across the country to commission a permanent COVID memorial sculpture, Barnsley is paying tribute to those who have lost their lives and acknowledging the admirable and inspirational contribution of key workers, volunteers and local communities during the pandemic crisis.

Barnsley’s ground-breaking approach is demonstrated by the commissioning of a special sculpture that will feature ordinary working people who are hugely underrepresented in sculptures across the world.

The project and its initiatives will provide a way for people to remember their loved ones and acknowledge the admirable and inspirational contribution of key workers and others during the pandemic crisis.

Four initiatives and an engagement programme will honour those that have lost their lives and the key workers that continue to contribute in the fight against the coronavirus and provide a permanent reminder of this episode in our history.

The initiatives are:

  • COVID memorial sculpture
  • Barnsley Spirit Awards
  • Freedom of the borough
  • Book of condolence

The combination of initiatives will:

  • provide a focal point to remember the people who have been lost during this time, whatever the cause;
  • acknowledge the extraordinary efforts of all key workers and community volunteers that have ensured critical services continue to be delivered and that those needing extra help receive ongoing support;
  • help us all to look forward to the future and the recovery of Barnsley.

Steering group

A steering group has been established to oversee the project and ensure the involvement of key partners in decision making.

As well as the artists, representatives from the following organisations are included on the steering group:

The COVID memorial sculpture

Barnsley’s COVID memorial to commemorate the lives lost and in recognition of its key workers.

Barnsley’s memorial sculpture will be positioned in the heart of the new public square in the town centre to mark the impact of the COVID crisis, honour those we've lost, and recognise the contribution and sacrifices made by key workers, volunteers and communities.

It will be installed in November 2021 as a key focal point and reminder of the pandemic; to create a legacy for those who lost their lives and act as a tribute to the resilience of residents and our communities.

Barnsley artist and sculptor Graham Ibbeson, in collaboration with Lockbund Sculpture Foundry, have been appointed to undertake the design and production.

The sculpture will depict seven figures cast in bronze, demonstrating that everyone has been affected by COVID, and represent a tribute to key workers. The figures include a young girl, older man, volunteer, nurse, carer, police officer and a teacher – representing different generations and various communities, and be reflective of everyone that has been affected throughout the pandemic.

Barnsley poet Ian McMillan is involved in the project and has written a powerful phrase to be engraved on the plinth, to mark the moment as a key point in our history and to epitomise the efforts of the council, key workers, volunteers and local communities to provide love, care and support during the pandemic. The words are: Barnsley’s fierce love holds you forever in its heart.

Ian McMillan and Graham Ibbeson have provided their services for free by way of demonstrating their love and support to Barnsley, its residents and communities at this difficult time in our history.

COVID memorial sculpture

Maquette (sketch) of the COVID memorial sculpture

Funding for the COVID memorial sculpture

Barnsley Council, along with the steering group established to oversee the COVID memorial project, felt it was important to have a memorial sculpture to mark one of the most challenging times in our history.

The cost of the sculpture is £210,000 which is well within the overall budget provision of £450,000 that has been set aside for the project. Contributions are being sought from partners, together with opportunities for commercial sales of maquettes of the sculpture, and crowd-funding options are also under consideration to help reduce the overall costs to the council.

The funding for this project will cover the cost of the memorial and its installation, and for other works relating to the project including additional activity such as the neon artworks, elements of the engagement programme, and associated landscaping etc.

Artist and sculptor Graham Ibbeson has generously offered his time and services for free, by way of demonstrating his love and support to Barnsley, its residents and communities.

The engagement programme

A comprehensive engagement programme has been developed, to involve local people, local organisations, key workers and school children, to raise awareness and support for the sculpture.

It includes the below: 

Message in a Bottle

Message in a Bottle is a public engagement initiative that supports the COVID memorial sculpture project.

The initiative encourages people not to keep their emotions bottled up, but to share their experiences of living through the coronavirus pandemic. It's a tool to engage with the public and key workers, to actively encourage them to share their stories and provide support as part of the healing process, on a journey of which we are all part of.

Taking part

You can download a postcard in the shape of a bottle, designed by local artist Patrick Murphy, below. Add your thoughts, words, reflections, photos, drawings, or artwork to it, then take photograph of the postcard and share it with us.

You can share it with us on social media @HearMyVoiceBsly on Facebook and @HearMyVoiceBsly on Twitter, or email it to

Download the Message in a Bottle postcard

Aims of the project

A key aim of the initiative is to collect messages from and about the wide variety of key workers and the essential role they have played throughout the pandemic, to demonstrate our appreciation and celebrate their commitment, resilience and dedication.

These messages will be collected over the next few months to build up a bank of messages which will then be shared as part of the engagement programme, as we move closer to the unveiling of the COVID memorial sculpture.

The messages and work collected as part of this project will provide a record of this time, and will also be used to create artworks, publications and exhibitions as part of the wider COVID memorial project.

COVID has brought people and communities together in a time of crisis. This project provides an opportunity for everyone to share their stories, acts of kindness, local heroes and positive messages as well as being an outlet to release their emotions.

Message in a Bottle will launch with the installation of a neon light designed by Patrick Murphy and featuring the words of poet Ian McMillan: Barnsley’s fierce love holds you forever in its heart, which will also be inscribed on the plinth of the memorial sculpture.

A series of words in neon selected from the Message in a Bottle project will be displayed later in the year.

Words in Neon

Wording gathered from local people and key workers as part of the Message in a Bottle initiative will be turned into neon artworks which will be displayed in key locations across the town centre.

The neon installations will be displayed from autumn 2021.

Key workers - through the eyes of children

Working with Fusion, Barnsley’s cultural education partnership, school children will be involved in the creation of drawings of key workers, of which several will be selected for inclusion on the bronze plaque mounted on the plinth of the sculpture.

Portraits of key workers

Photographic commissions will show key workers in their roles and create a series of traditional portraits which will be used to celebrate our key workers and lead to an exhibition of the photographs.

The making of the COVID memorial sculpture

A series of short films will be produced capturing the production of the sculpture and the many varied processes involved in creating it.

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