Talented Local Welder Honours Key Workers With ‘Unity’ Sculpture

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Key Worker Sculpture by J. Gillespie, Chichester, West Sussex
Key Worker Sculpture by J. Gillespie, Chichester, West Sussex

A sparkling silver statue constructed out of stainless steel keys highlights the main high street in East Street in Chichester, West Sussex. Set onto traditional flagstones of the pedestrianised shopping area the fresh community artwork is situated outside Marks and Spencer Food Hall and Barclays Bank.

‘Unity’ as the lady statue is named, arrived Wednesday 24th March 2021 and is bolted directly onto the paving slabs. For one month she has simultaneously blended in and stood out as the general public head back into town in increasingly larger numbers following the further lifting of restrictions on trading last Monday.

The permanent artwork celebrates and commemorates the contribution of all the key workers throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. The installation was completed one year after the first lockdown was announced in the UK. Creator John Gillespie from Singleton is a local engineer and welder. Usually he “works as a stainless steel fabricator in Itchenor” and impressively this is his first sculptural artwork. (1)

Sussex Live shared a photograph on facebook and more than 7000 people liked the sculpture and more than 400 made mostly positive comments including “Best bench in Chichester” and described how their young family members enjoyed trying it out too.

Key Worker sculpture by J. Gillespie (detail of seated figure) Chichester, West Sussex
Key Worker sculpture by J. Gillespie (detail of seated figure) Chichester, West Sussex

We have noticed that many visitors to the medieval market centre really like sitting together on the bench. Many have tried out the two metre metal seat in a household group. All we have spoken to heartily approve of the shiny, striking and functional monument and it has already brought much joy to the day of hundreds of folk.

A couple of adults haven’t noticed the sun catching figure as they have perched on the other end of the street furniture. They are pleasantly surprised when they take a second look and see the incredibly crafted mannequin. In this way this metalwork memorial is magical and reminiscent of real living precious metal painted mime artists that enchant their audience with their statuesque antics.

As usual there were a few negative comments on social media. However none of these were anything to do with the artist Jojhn Gillespie’s work, which all agree is of an exceptionally high standard. “Wonderful”and “Beautiful” is how several members of the community have described the innovative piece.

The lifesize female form sits cross legged on a contemporary silver park bench. The work is beautifully detailed and bears the inscription “Dedicated to all key workers who served the nation throughout Covid-19” A two metre gap exists between the sculpture and the end of the bench to represent a ‘social distancing gap’.

“250 of the keys are engraved with the names of professions classed as key workers, many of them suggested by members of the public.” reported Ryan Burrows of the local radio station Greatest Hits Radio. (2)

Key Worker sculpture by J. Gillespie, (detail) Chichester, Wet Sussex
Key Worker sculpture by J. Gillespie, (detail) Chichester, Wet Sussex

Mr Gillespie intended to help boost tourism in Chichester by creating his unique design in this historic public space, according to the Chichester Observer. (3) The inscription on the bench reads: “Come and rest a while with me, Seek your role or simply be, While we stayed at home, When we felt scared, You risked your lives for us, you cared. Superhero you may not be, But that’s what we, the nation, see.”

Spending public funds on public art is controversial at the moment. Some citizens feel that the money is better spent on raising key workers’ pay or investing in climate change initiatives.

This distinctive bench will mark and remember a very challenging time for workers and the whole community in West Sussex and all over the world. It is fitting that the sculpted figure is a lady as women have played a central role in keeping the country going through dark and difficult days.

This is because many of the jobs that have been ‘essential’ during the pandemic such as nursing, caring, retailing and cleaning are often positions held by women in the UK. Of course men have also played their part in keeping the country functioning during the lockdowns.

However it is a fitting tribute to mothers and sisters everywhere who have been said to have carried a heavy load during the pandemic. This is because many ladies have had to  unexpectedly juggle childcaring, homeschooling, homekeeping and key worker responsibilities simultaneously.

John Gillespie’s ‘Unity’ bench in East Street, “lifts our spirits and shines like a light in our City Centre.” declared Councillor Richard Plowman who is The Mayor of Chichester in his open letter to the Chichester council community in April 2021. (4)

Music and creative expression has been a positive part of dealing with the impact of the pandemic and lockdown for millions of people across the world. This 3 dimensional metallic figure sat outside on her socially distanced bench is a perfect way to remember all those who have sacrificed to help others. Gillespie’s sculpture also thanks those who have gone the extra mile to deliver the vaccine programme that has enabled us to continue to succeed in beating the Covid-19 virus.

As we cautiously get our economy going again the new piece will be experienced by thousands of international travellers. “Unity” will play her part to keep Chichester a well loved cultural destination, just as the artist, who is based in Singleton just outside the historic city intended.

(1) ‘Singleton man creates impressive nurse sculpture in honour of key workers’ Joe Stack, Chichester Observer, 30th April 2021 ‘Singleton man creates impressive nurse sculpture in honour of key workers’ Joe Stack, Chichester Observer

(2) ‘Key worker monument to be unveiled in Chichester, Ryan Burrows, Greatest Hits Radio, 24 March 2021 ‘Key worker monument to be unveiled in Chichester, Ryan Burrows, Greatest Hits Radio

(3) ‘Statue honouring key workers to appear in Chichester’ Joe Stack, 25th March 2021 ‘Statue honouring key workers to appear in Chichester’ Joe Stack, Chichester Observer

(4) ‘Open Letter from The Mayor’ Councillor Richard Plowman, The Mayor of Chichester, 6 April 2021 ‘Open Letter from The Mayor’Richard Plowman, The Mayor of Chichester, Chichester City Government