LINKS between The Salvation Army and the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games are being celebrated through artistic presentations at International Headquarters (IHQ) in central London.
On the building's ground floor, in full view of the thousands of people who pass by every day, is a stylised representation of a mountain biker. Designer Berni Georges, from the IHQ Communications Section, prepared plans which were turned into reality by staff at Hadleigh Farm, with the centre’s clients playing a key role at every stage – right up to the construction at IHQ.
The Salvation Army's Hadleigh Farm hosted the Olympic mountain bike competition on 11 and 12 August – the first time a church denomination has hosted an Olympic event.
The farm has a rich history. In 1890 General William Booth, Founder of The Salvation Army, oversaw the purchase of unwanted land next to the Thames in Essex. As part of his ‘In Darkest England’ scheme, people from the poorest parts of London were offered agricultural and other training so they could escape from poverty. Today the farm still offers training. People with special educational needs are given the opportunity to learn carpentry and other life skills, including the use of computers.
Some of the clients worked under the guidance of carpentry tutor Brian Barker to create the mountain bike installation – cutting the wood, sanding the surface, painting the pieces and then, at IHQ, helping with the assembly. A video of the display being put together at IHQ is available at sar.my/hadsculpt
Kevin Sims (Communications Section, IHQ) says: 'It was wonderful to see the excitement of the clients as they put the pieces together. They took a real pride in their work and were a huge credit to themselves, to the farm and to the staff who treated them with such love and respect. When we first came up with the idea of a mountain bike "sculpture" for IHQ our main thought was of how it could grab the attention of the general public. The boost it so obviously gave to the clients from Hadleigh Farm was an unexpected but wonderful bonus!'
Posters on the end of the installation give some information about the work at Hadleigh Farm. This is supplemented by more information downstairs in Gallery 101, next to the public cafe.
The gallery is also hosting Aim High, an exhibition of submissions – collected in conjunction with the UK Territory's Sport for Good programme – that reflect one of the seven Olympic and Paralympic values: Respect, Excellence, Friendship, Courage, Determination, Inspiration and Equality.
Salvation Army centres across the UK were encouraged to work with their members and clients to produce artwork for the exhibition. What was eventually sent in reflects a wide view of the brief. Some centres went for very obviously ‘Olympic’ themes while others simply allowed the clients to express themselves on paper. Works by formerly homeless residents at Booth House, which is a little more than three miles from the Olympic Park, are featured alongside pieces from people linked to centres that offer services to the unemployed and the elderly.
The exhibition also includes works by other artists that reflect the Olympic/Paralympic values, examples of ways in which The Salvation Army is grasping the opportunities presented by London 2012 – such as the torch relay and sport-themed issues of The War Cry and Kids Alive! – and a mountain bike constructed by clients from Recycles at Booth House, Swindon.
The exhibition and the mountain bike installation are on display at IHQ until late September. Gallery 101 is open from 8.30am to 4.30pm Monday to Friday, but it will also be open to the public on Sunday 9 September (the day of the Paralympic marathon) and Saturday 22 September, when IHQ participates in Open House London.
Report by Kevin Sims