PUBLIC DONATIONS, By Faymarie Morris.
If only Karen Wooley had known, right at the beginning, exactly how things would turn out she probably would never have contemplated it. But the unexpected offer of promotion to Marketing Strategy Assistant to Jerry Lamb, chairman of the newly formed Yorkshire Wool Initiative, offshoot of the Wool Council, had seemed too good a chance to let go. This was something she’d been dreaming of. A way to prove, after years of being ‘just Karen’, that she had credibility, was the best person for the job and… the considerable pay rise. Her husband, Joe, better known as Jumper, was finally coming to terms with his redundancy and a family holiday in the sun might be just what the doctor ordered. And Karen wanted to be the one to provide it.
Her first few months as Marketing Strategy Assistant, [she loved using her full title as that made it seem even more real], had been pretty ordinary, until April when Jerry received the first email.
“Karen, the powers that be say we need to make Bradford a more exciting place to visit. They want us to find a way to sex-up Bradford. Sheffield used to be boring but now it’s THE place to go. So, Karen, do whatever it takes, but make sure it happens.”
How the hell am I expected to sex-up Bradford, thought Karen, as her glasses steamed up in sympathy.
Her first thought had been to create a new red light district. No, not like Soho! A new shopping area lit only with red streetlights. That would be sexy but thankfully she dismissed it. Several other ideas were equally as woeful but she had to keep trying. Eye In The Sky? NO! Graffiti by Banksie? NO! Bicycle taxis? NO! Street pop concerts?…but all that conjured up was chaos, so a very definite NO!
Then, exactly a week after the email arrived she came up with the first germ of an idea.
Sheffield! she should be thinking about Sheffield, a city famous for steel, so the Steel Man statue in the City of Steel had proved to be a brilliant concept and a great marketing campaign.
Bradford was famous for wool so didn’t it make sense to call it Wool City? This initial idea was passed unopposed by the council, but she needed to come up with so much more.
When they erected the Steel Man statue in the centre of the Sheffield steel manufacturing district, it quickly became such an overwhelming success that people travelled miles just to see it. The ratepayers of Sheffield had been asked to choose their favourite design from several prize winning sculptors and the final choice and end product had been a triumph. Shame Karen’s didn’t turn out so well.
It wasn’t the idea or the choice of image that was bad, it was the execution. The final unveiling on that fateful day was something Karen would never forget.
The English wool market had been in the doldrums for a while due to cheap imports from China and the overwhelming popularity of man-made fibres which were cheaper, easier to launder and less itchy. Then, an invasion of new yarns, alpaca, llama, angora and bamboo, yes bamboo, threatened to swamp the market, but thankfully, Shetland, Aran, Merino and woollen mixtures made huge inroads until the saviour of the woollen industry arrived…Superwash, Easycare New Wool.
Nothing is better than the warmth of pure wool, we all know it, and the latest processing techniques mean wool can now be produced with the same durability, softness and ease of care of any fibre currently available and as Karen’s mantra had always been…English wool is…well, it’s English, shouldn’t that be how to promote the English woollen industry?
It didn’t take long for her to come up with the idea of making something massive… from wool. That had worked for Sheffield so how about a sculpture made out of wool for Bradford? Her original thoughts soon morphed into something made from coarse, untreated wool, complete with it’s natural by-product, lanolin. But what? Also, wool had always been considered a valuable commodity and in the past was used for barter and as money. It is waterproof and has insulating qualities, which helps to keep items dry, cool or warm… so maybe a boat made of wool, or a huge fridge, or how about a massive hand-woven blanket…?
That’s when Karen thought about creating a colossal golden fleece from untreated woollen waste, sprinkled liberally with bits of gold leaf for added sparkle and drama. It could even be a central feature in the foyer of the new Bradford Museum of Wool which was due to be finished soon… but how, exactly?
She had recently watched a documentary about a process called felting and although she had never actually done or seen it herself, they said it was undergoing a craft revival and because any old bits of wool could be collected and used, even the tatty old matted stuff that had snagged on barbed wire or wooden fences. In fact, this could be seen as an advantage, especially if used to help promote the variety, economy and luxury of woollen items. Maybe local farmers could get on board by donating their waste wool and might even be persuaded to stimulate interest in the project by advertising countrywide, even worldwide, that the installation was only possible because of help given by the farming community and also the local public. The call went out and suddenly things started to happen, fast. She had become really excited by all the prospects laid out before her.
After chatting to Madge Bale, her neighbour and a long time W.I. member, Karen decided to attend the next meeting, to see if any of them knew anything about felting. It turned out that several knew quite alot and were happy to explain that although it’s repetitive and time consuming, it is also quite easy. Well, easy for them.
Apparently felting doesn’t require much in the way of specialist tools or equipment, just a range of different sized felting needles and copious amounts of wool.
Wool started to arrive, thick and fast. Her garage was soon filled with bags of smelly old scraps and large canvas sacks of shearing leftovers and by the following day, even Madge’s garage was full. Madge’s friend, Elsa Sheppard, offered Karen the use of an empty warehouse for a couple of months adding that it could be utilised for storage, wool preparation and construction.
Then, to Karen’s amazement, the W.I. members voted to undertake all of the felting work if she would, on behalf of the Wool Council, make a donation to the upcoming local W.I. Summer Fayre and also help promote some of their future fund raising activities. A bit of ‘you scratch my back and I’ll’…kind of thing which she accepted, of course.
The Bradford Gazette advertised for a designer and Karen’s in-tray was soon swamped. The applicants were all good but one of them turned out to be Madge’s younger sister, Liz Ewes, who had, until recently, been working in Japan. Felting had become massively popular in Japan and Liz wanted to help make it just as popular in England, so everything was happening at the perfect time.
Bradford Council members voted to donate the money for several sheets of gold leaf and a local printing firm agreed to make the appropriate signage, when everything was finally ready. Things were coming together and Karen couldn’t have been more delighted. When this is all over, she thought with a sigh, I really will need a holiday.
Karen soon realised exactly how time consuming felting was but at least there was enough W.I. members to share the work out and the weather was warm which allowed them to take several large tables outside where they could work and sing along to the music blaring out of the warehouse speakers while the sun beat down on them. Who would ever have guessed that the community would have come together so readily.
It made Karen’s heart swell with pride whenever she heard local people calling Bradford The Wool City, as they went about their daily chores.
And the golden fleece just kept growing. Smaller sections were formed and then were fused onto the main section. Luckily there were plenty of trestle tables stacked against the warehouse walls and soon the fleece was covering ten tables pushed together. But it would need to be much bigger otherwise it would be lost in the expanse that was the foyer of the newly built Bradford Museum of Wool.
Karen had gasped the first time she saw it. “Bloody hell, Jerry. You said it was big but I had no idea how big. I reckon it’ll be perfect for what I have in mind, but.” A smug, self satisfied look enveloped her face although at that moment she’d had no idea what was coming.
The finished item was transported in a large removal van to the museum and unloaded in secret, at night. Special cleats had been made to anchor it to the walls and ceiling and were all in place and a cherry picker was parked at the ready. As they gently laid it out on the floor, it looked spectacular. Long glossy sections of fleece and tiny pieces of Gold Leaf that had been scattered through it, glittered in the spotlights. To Karen it looked flawless, like some natural, organic thing.
As it was raised and finally fixed in place, a hush descended. “If this doesn’t make Bradford sexy, I don’t know what will.” Jerry said to Karen, with a huge grin on his face. “We did it, Karen. We really did it.” And for a few seconds Karen was peeved. I did it, she thought. It was me not you. But she didn’t say anything. The following day television cameras arrived along with reporters, Michael Parkinson and other local celebrities. A festive atmosphere gripped the whole of Bradford and no-one could avoid being caught up in it. The Town Cryer announced that The Lord Mayor was about to open the festivities and everyone held their breath.
But… earlier in the week, when Signs 4 Bradford had contacted Karen, for her OK on the final choice of words to accompany the installation, she said she’d get back to them but then everything went mental and she simply ran out of time. The next day they sent a message and photo to her iphone, which showed her actual words and asked her to please check the spelling again, carefully. She glanced at it, texted OK, then returned it.
The famous Black Bridge Brass Band were playing ‘On llkley Moor…’ as the satin curtains were drawn back. Two LED spotlights were pointed directly at the fleece, highlighting the drama and opulence of golden glints amongst the primitive simplicity of wool. The effect was dazzling. Another spotlight lit up the legend underneath as the Lord Mayor read, in his best official voice,
“THIS EXCITING ART WORK COULD NOT HAVE BEEN REALISED WITHOUT GENEROUS PUBLIC DONATIONS FROM LOCAL FARMERS AND THE RATEPAYERS OF…” he frowned, quickly scanning the sign again, before adding, tentatively, “BBBRADFORD?”
Television cameras were focussed on the sign as the image was relayed to an outside screen and also the 12 o’clock news. Karen gagged when she realised the full horror of what was written there while all around her the dull hum of approval was replaced by giggles, followed closely by uncontrolled laughter.