The Devon & Cornwall Rail Partnership worked with the local community to replace damaged and decrepit tiles at Gunnislake with creative and durable new works of art.
Gunnislake station, on the Tamar Valley Line in Cornwall, is the busiest station on this important local branch line.
Back in late 1990s a project was completed at the station by the local Groundwork charity to install tiles at the station telling the story of the railway and the local area. Over the years the tiles had become frost damaged and in some places were falling away from the walls.
The station had recently been adopted by a local Friends group who were doing excellent work with the planting at the station and the tiles were detracting from this work. The local school had also been in contact with Rebecca Catterall from the Partnership after a recent trip on the railway were interested in the school getting involved in an art project at the station.
The Devon and Cornwall Rail Partnership therefore decided it was time to tackle the mammoth task of not only removing the tiles but also replacing them with something that would last for years to come and involve the community.
The first step was to find an artist who would be willing to work with the community to produce something to replace the tiles and would be available to see the project through from removal of the tiles, to community participation and installation.
The school suggested Rosie Fierek as someone they had worked with in the past, and happily, Rosie was someone the Rail Partnership has also worked with in the past as she had been involved with creating some tiles for the centenary celebrations back in 2008.
Rosie was approached and was very keen to be involved so a trip was set up with a class from Delaware school so that they could travel the line and start sketching some ideas for the tiles. Rosie came on the trip and a series of themes for the project began to emerge.
The project was priced up and the Partnership submitted a bid to the Designated Community Rail Development Fund which was successful. Other funding came from Cornwall Council via the Partnership.
The next step was to remove the tiles so on 21st April 2018 a group of volunteers from the University of Plymouth, coordinated by the Rail Partnership, met up with volunteers from the Friends of Gunnislake Station (FoGS) and staff from Great Western Railway to start the process.
The tiles were very difficult to remove without the use of any power tools so a follow up project was organised on 10th May with more students.
Eventually, with a blank canvas and themes decided, Rosie started the workshops with the school and not content with just working with one class, Rosie decided to give every child in both Delaware and Gunnislake primary schools, the two nearest schools, the opportunity to make a tile.
A community drop in session was held to ensure as many people as possible had the opportunity to take part. This took place on 7th July and those attending were invited to imprint words onto clay that reflected life in the Tamar Valley or the importance of the rail link.
35 people came to the session which was held at the headquarters of the Tamar Valley AONB. Young and old alike came along and created their word tiles which would form the ‘soil’ for a series of fruit bushes; each bush representing a different aspect of the Tamar Valley.
The project was all going well until contractors working for GWR painted the station without consultation with the Rail Partnership. All the work to remove the tiles back to the bare stone was ruined overnight as they painted the walls in grey masonry paint.
As the paint would form a barrier between the tiles and the wall it had to be removed in order for the tiles to be able to bond fully. This is where the local community pulled together again as Rosie set about removing the paint, various friends and community members offered to help so that the project could be completed.
After that slight stumbling block, the project was finally completed and launched on 6th June 2019. School children and staff from Delaware school were joined by the Friends of Gunnislake Station, the local Cornwall Councillor, Parish Councillors, members of the Calstock Rubber Band, Great Western Railway and the Devon and Cornwall Rail Partnership who gathered at the station to formally unveil the tiles.
This has been a real community project with 166 primary school children each making a tile for the station. The input from the local community has been invaluable, especially with the tile and paint removal process.
The tiles will be a lasting memory for the local community of the project and the importance of their local railway.
Becky Marshall the class teacher from Delaware school said:
“It was wonderful for all of the children at the school from reception through to year 6 to be given the chance to make their own tile. Giving every child the chance to be a part of this magnificent mural has been really fabulous. Those tiles will be a lasting memory for the local community and hopefully will remain at the station for many years to come. I hope that the pupils will enjoy sharing their work with family and friends for many years. It certainly brightens up the station and celebrates why the Tamar Valley is such a special place.”
Rosie Fierek said:
“This installation is intended to be a snapshot of today in the Tamar Valley and reflects our rich diversity and history.”
Comments from the public, posted on Facebook included: “Superb, lovely and thanks for making this spot unique”, “No longer a boring wait for the train, a mini art gallery to enjoy”, and “Puts a big smile on your face, beautiful”.
The story of the tile launch was covered in the local media and featured on the GWR website.
The project was awarded second place in the “Community Art Schemes – Permanent and Larger projects” category at the national 2019 Community Rail Awards in front of an audience of more than 400 rail industry, community and government representatives.
Thanks to the project at the station, Rosie has been commissioned to do a similar project around locality and mining, in the centre of Gunnislake village.