Love Barnsley

About the project

Our COVID memorial project 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 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 special sculpture that features ordinary working people who are hugely underrepresented in sculptures across the world.

The project and its initiatives 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 honour those that lost their lives and the key workers that continue to contribute to 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:

  • provides 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

Steering group

A steering group was 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 is positioned in the heart of The Glass Works 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 was 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, was appointed to undertake the design and production.

The sculpture depicts seven figures cast in bronze, demonstrating that everyone has been affected by COVID, and represents 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 is reflective of everyone that has been affected throughout the pandemic.

Barnsley poet Ian McMillan was involved in the project and wrote 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 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.

Watch the COVID memorial documentary
COVID memorial sculpture at night

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 was £210,000 which was well within the overall budget provision of £450,000 that was set aside for the project.

The funding for this project covered 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 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 was 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 was a public engagement initiative that supported the COVID memorial sculpture project.

The initiative encouraged people not to keep their emotions bottled up, but to share their experiences of living through the coronavirus pandemic. It was 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.

Watch the Message in a Bottle video.

Aims of the project

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

The messages were collected over several months, to build up a bank of messages which were shared as part of the engagement programme, as we moved closer to the unveiling of the COVID memorial sculpture.

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

COVID brought people and communities together in a time of crisis. This project provided 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 launched with the installation of a neon light designed by Patrick Murphy and featured the words of poet Ian McMillan: Barnsley’s fierce love holds you forever in its heart, which will are also inscribed on the plinth of the memorial sculpture.

Words in Neon

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

Key workers - through the eyes of children

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

Portraits of key workers

Photographic commissions showed key workers in their roles and created a series of traditional portraits which were used to celebrate our key workers.

The making of the COVID memorial

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

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