M5 Willowman future in doubt as campaign is launched to save him

M5 Willowman future in doubt as campaign is launched to save him

The artist of the M5 Willowman says that if she cannot raise enough money for his repair then she could be forced to pull him down for good.

A £75,000 target has been set and a crowdfunding page has been launched to secure the icons future as his condition has deteriorated, meaning he needs to be completely rebuilt to bring him back to his original form. He has had various treatments made to him since 2001 after he was set on fire in an arson attack but was rebuilt due to the help from public contributions.

The Willowman was first built in 2000 by artist Serena de la Hey after it was commissioned by the Arts Council but was only ever meant to be a temporary structure, however he has become a symbolic figure within Bridgwater and surrounding areas of Sedgemoor:

“I’m aiming for £75,000 which does seem a lot of money but it’s going to ensure that he gets a full rebuild. I’m going to need to bring him down, clean him, repaint him, re-coat him with willow and put him back up again; as you can imagine the logistics of it including the plant hire and the extra things that you need in a public space health and safety-wise, all contribute to this amount of money.”

Artist de la Hey added that it has simply become impractical to keep doing regular minor works to him because of the financial and resource costs of doing the work. She’s set herself an ambitious target to raise the money by Friday 25 May, when she hopes she can begin the work:

“As soon as we get the money then it’s just about going into the planning stages to sort it out. As ever, I’d like to resolve everything as quickly as I can, so we could be looking at as early as this September but realistically we could be looking into next year, so it’ll be quite a quick turnaround.”

In 2001 the Willowman was set on fire and had to be completely rebuilt with extra security.
In 2001 the Willowman was set on fire and had to be completely rebuilt with extra security.

The sculpture was commissioned for the millennium by the South West Arts Council to celebrate the ‘Year of the Artist’. After receiving further backing when he was burnt down from the Arts Council, they declined to comment or pledge any support for the new campaign when Bower News contacted their press office because it was such a long time ago. With the lack of backing from them de la Hey has now turned to crowdfunding:

“One of the most important things about doing a crowdfunder is that people realise that you have to pledge within a certain amount of time, so I’m going for an all or nothing (strategy) for the £75,000, if I don’t raise the money then I don’t get the money, so we’ve got a month to concentrate our attention and energies to raise the money, that will hopefully ensure the longer life of the Willowman.”

‘He’s become a figure, an icon of constants in a time of massive change, particularly across the Somerset levels’

Much has changed around him, with the Kingsdown housing development on one side of him and one of the country’s biggest supermarkets, Morrisons, has one of its biggest distribution centres on the other.

However he is still described as a sign of constants in a period of massive uncertainty and job losses in the town due to the financial crash and the closure of the former Innovia Cellophane site. Many have spoken in support of the campaign including Gardener and Broadcaster, Toby Buckland, who has joined in the fight to keep the Willowman standing:

“He’s only 19 but he’s something that’s been in my life for nearly two decades, so I think it’s just appalling that he could just disappear from the landscape. It’s not simply because I cherish land art, because I do; it’s just that unbelievably, even though he’s only still a teenager he’s become a figure, an icon of constants in a time of massive change, particularly across the Somerset levels.”

“When he was build he was just in a field on his own, now he’s in an industrial and housing estate, part of greater Bridgwater and so ironically for something so you and new, he looks like something from a time long gone. When it comes to conservation that’s really quite an important message, you’ve got to keep the good bits from the past, because the future really is now the past.”

The Willowman has been fondly nicknamed by locals as ‘The Angel of the South’, with reference to Anthony Gormely’s ‘Angel of the North’ which is in Newcastle upon Tyne.

If you want to learn more about the campaign to save the Willowman, including testimonials from Buckland and other supporters then head to www.crowdfunding.co.uk/willow-man.

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