An art project previously only seen in cathedrals has been central to a project pulling community together in a Shrewsbury parish.
The Buttons project builds on the artwork of Peter Walker Sculptor with local activist Kate Collins working with local schools, supermarkets and the church community encouraging gratitude, hope and kindness with the aim of leaving a 'pay it forward' response from people taking part.
The art installation was brought to the Church of the Holy Spirit's chapel three weeks ago and has been added to by many local people who've brought their own buttons and taken part in the Buttons Ceremony developed by Kate and pioneered by local teachers and school groups. It has overlaid with a large number of events - some regular activities in the church and some specially to draw people in to see the Buttons exhibit during half-term.
"People often see Shrewsbury as a very wealthy area, but actually in Harlescott there are areas of deprivation and many people find themselves in great difficulty in great need." says the vicar, Revd Lisa Knight. "This morning we’ve had the FoodShare here which travels all round Shrewsbury, but we often invite different organizations to come - might be the mental health team, that might be a community resource who can offer grants for winter fuel allowances. And it's a place where people are beginning to know that they can come and get support and referrals to other places, but also importantly, a place that they can meet and be and get to know us as the church community."
The programme included regular events - Sunday and Wednesday worship, the Warm Space hub and craft group but also special events such as taking part in the Buttons ceremony, Halloween Hot Chocolate, a Board Games day hosted with Shrewsbury board-game cafe Nerdy's and a community barbeque.
"Community matters to me. Any place. Any place. Because actually we all need each other. And be that the church needing the health service or our local schools or our local mental health team meeting the churches as venues or places they can meet, we can't get along without each other. And I think often as churches, we tend to look a bit inwards and we can also be a bit threatened by the success of other organizations or indeed of other churches.
"We're seeking to build good relationships with other denominations in the area, as well as all sorts of people and organizations who make up this wonderful, varied, diverse community that we want to celebrate and bring to God, frankly. And we want them to hear Jesus name. Many people haven't even even heard his name, and it's their choice whether they follow him. But we want to at least give them that opportunity to know who Jesus is, what a difference he makes in our lives and what He can do for us. And in turn, particularly through our buttons, projects, what we can give back to him.
Organiser Kate Collins was drawn into the parish after finding herself next to Lisa at a local choir and using her skills and contacts persuaded Peter and Kathryn to loan the Buttons project to the parish.
"If Lisa hadn't of put across her vision for this area in quite the way that she did, I wouldn't have been inspired to to help.
"It is not a cathedral. And that's what makes it so wonderful. And I think this project in particular just shows that Peter Walker's work comes from a fantastic creative place. The simplicity of the buttons that turning it into something so wonderful. But there's always meaning behind it, you know? And the whether Peter is doing work in an enormous cathedral or in tiny little hall skirt, he recognized the need. He understood what it was I was trying to generate. And he knew that he had something that could help us do that. And we're incredibly grateful for that. He recognizes that, you know, he his work is is famous. And so being able to to use that for something so meaningful, I think makes him very happy."
Kate started with contacting local schools and was overwhelmed by the response.
"I've been a teacher, I know how that feels and I was really keen to not add to their workload but to make sure that it was something that they could incorporate into their curriculums. And Harlescott juniors and Sundorne Infants particularly really jumped on that with enthusiasm. They've got an amazing man over there by the name of Neil Price, who's worked with Peter Walker artwork before and he leapt on board and that was the start of some really awesome engagement work. So I went in and did the bond ceremony with their staff.
"So on the first day I went in and worked with the teachers. And what the ceremony contains is that we reflect on people that we're grateful for. I've done lots of research as a psychology teacher on the purpose of our emotions and looking at the purpose of gratitude and gratitude, we often think of it as like a byproduct of when somebody does something nice for us. But research has found that if you can invoke gratitude in people, yes, they're more likely to do something for the person who did something for them, but they're actually much more likely to go on and do kind things for anybody: after they've invoked that feeling, they will do kind things for people that they don't know, even at cost to themselves. And that's what I wanted to do. So I got them to reflect on the teachers, to reflect on people they were grateful for, and then off the back of that, they had to commit to paying that forward.
"So they had to come up with one very specific action that they could take that week that was going to make someone smile or make something better. And the reaction was was fantastic. Those teachers are so committed and so hardworking. And they it was really meaningful to them. That was really clear in the ceremony. And they then I left them busily plotting what they could do with that, with their students and how they could adapt it to the work they were already doing."
Some of the resulting reflections and artworks from the children can be seen in the following video:
Kate and Lisa have also engaged with local businesses including the local market and supermarket. But it's the stories that people have shared after taking part in the Buttons ceremony that has really touched them.
Kate: "We had a lady who with her granddaughter have given buttons to commemorate her daughter who passed away too soon. But she also, along with that, brought a button that she said, was covered in the Silhouette factory. She said, if you're talking about gratitude, I want to talk about the Silhouette Factory because I made lifelong friendships there. She said It was a business that really made you feel like you were cared for. And I thought that's so in the spirit of it. So I've made a story out of that one, and we've had lots of little kids come in. They were very excited last night to come in during Halloween, and they all wanted to show their parents their artwork that was there. And then the reactions when they see the installation and pictures don't do it justice. There's been some really emotional reactions when people see it.
"On Monday a little boy who came along and he's two years old and I asked him what his commitment was to do something kind, and I was told that he really doesn't like litter, so he is going to do a litter pick on his street. His sister, who is five is very worried about the environment. So she's going to make sure she turns off all the lights in her house when she's done with them. So there's just been this array of warmth and wonderful personal stories that have come out of this, the fantastic.
And yes, so the impact has been fantastic. You never know quite how far this wave of kindness is going to go. But when Mr. Price was delivering all of the school artwork, he said teachers around the school had come to him to saying they've really noticed some lovely kind of culture change in the school this term. There's been so many thank you's, there's been so many doors held open. They genuinely think that, you know, through their staff, reflecting on this and using this kind of wave of kindness idea in the school, that it's had a measurable impact on the behaviour of the children in the school. So it does appear to have had a really wonderful impact in lots of ways."