Sidmouth u3a

Our Town at the Beacon

Photo courtesy of Sarah Hall, the award-winning Sidmouth Photographer

A full sized version of the Sidmouth Billboard project is now on permanent display in the new waiting room of the Beacon Medical Centre

On 31 January 2024 the Our Town poster was officially unveiled in the new waiting area of the Sid Valley Practice at the Beacon Medical Centre.

Members of Sidmouth u3a Exploring Art group were joined at the event by Dr Sara Hadfield, GP Partner at Sid Valley Practice and Grace Essex, Sidmouth District Guides Commissioner, together with some of the Brownies and their leaders. Also with us in our photograph are Louise and Coco from Sidmouth School of Art.

Sidmouth Billboard

By now many people will be aware of the Sidmouth Billboard in the car park next to the Swimming Pool. The billboard showcases community art projects by individuals & groups in Sidmouth and is organised by Sidmouth School of Art (SSA).

SSA describe it thus:

Watch this Wallspace: a public gallery for everyone. Transforming an unloved space overlooking a car park by the sea in Sidmouth. The billboard is a platform to grow confidence, share ideas and create interest. A community space: intriguing, fun and curious.

Exploring Art Group & Sidmouth Guides

The Exploring Art group worked for a year on our design for the poster on the Sidmouth Billboard entitled 'Our Town'.

60 people worked on this project, both members of Sidmouth U3A and of Sidmouth and District Guides - the youngest being 5 and the oldest 85. The Coordinating Artist was Maureen Hawkridge, leader of the Exploring Art group. The 3 metre x 6 metre poster finally went up on 22 March 2023 and it remained on view in the car park next to the swimming pool until the end of June.

Third Age Matters magazine

The June 2023 edition of 'Third Age Matters', the national u3a magazine, featured 'Our Town' on the cover under the title ‘Town is drawn together for art map spectacular’ and included a 4 page article. The online version can be read HERE.

Who was involved

The principal artworks were done by Exploring Art members:

Linda BakerMarlene ButlerAnne ChapmanLinda FunnellMaureen Hawkridge
Sue MaynardChris PowellMartin ScottCaroline StanleyJeff Turner
Jenny UnderhillLuc Vandamme

Additional Artworks are by u3a members:

Lynne BearmanSylke BeckJean BoothKatherine BrayneTashi Chodron
Chris CrisfordRebekah CunninghamAlan DenningMike HawkridgeZena Johnson
Jim MetcalfMartin PowellChristine Triner

PLUS 35 girls from Sidmouth and District Guides, ranging in age from 5 to 14

Exploring Art Group Leader, Maureen Hawkridge

This artwork is a celebration of the unique qualities of our town, with its charming buildings from different times in the history of Sidmouth interleaved with an abundance of lawns, trees and gardens both public and private.

We are rightly known for our beautiful Esplanade and family-friendly beaches, but this is also where we make our home, so it seemed right to include our own houses and invite other people in the U3A to do so. We took displays of our work to several U3A meetings and were able to persuade other members to contribute pictures. Many people in Sidmouth U3A have followed our progress and encouraged us, even if they did not want to join in with the artwork.

I first thought about the idea for Our Town while out walking with my husband Mike during lockdown. Walking out from our front door, we explored all the streets and residential areas of Sidmouth on our way to the cliff tops, the Byes or the Esplanade. We are comparative newcomers to Sidmouth and as we walked we remarked about the varied styles of building in the town. I realised that we were each looking at the buildings in a different way. Mike is interested in abstract photography of architectural subjects and this influenced how he looked. I on the other hand wondered about who lived in the houses, now and in the past, and what actually went on in the Mason’s Hall, the Dissenters church and so on. I marvelled at all the quirky decorative design touches which were considered so essential to buildings in the past. Ideas for an artwork started to form in my mind.

After lockdown, when the Exploring Art group started to meet again, I became aware of the SSA Wallspace project, and I immediately thought that this would be an opportunity for all of us to work on a large project together. We started with some of the buildings on the Esplanade, which to me personifies everything which makes Sidmouth so charming. I realised that we couldn’t fit them all in, we just had to choose. I know that some of the group members found painting the detailed hotels and houses of the Esplanade a challenge, but when they were done and we laid the pictures out in a row, the result was very beautiful. From that moment on, enthusiasm for the project ran high. People painted their houses and chose their favourite buildings in the town, with some group members producing several, or even many, pieces of work.

I had been thinking that we should try to involve the Guides in some way. We meet in the Guide Hut and we had seen some of their artwork on the noticeboards there. When it became apparent that there wouldn’t be as many takers as we would have liked from the other U3A groups who were asked to paint their own house, I realised that there would be plenty of space for contributions from the Guides. With the help of Sidmouth and District Guide Commissioner Grace Essex, I organised two Saturday workshop for Rainbows, Brownies and Guides to come along and paint their houses. This covered an age range of 5 to 14. They painted their houses so quickly and confidently that there was time during the day for Guides to paint pictures of trees and also some flowers.

It took many hours to put the finished artwork together, and I had to improve my Photoshop skills, but it was a joy to do it because I had such a wide variety of exciting pictures to use. In form, the picture turned out more or less as I had envisaged it, but I didn’t expect the sheer variety, hard work and attention to detail which contributed to the richness of the final product. All the people involved have loved seeing the other artworks, and have expressed their delight at being involved in such a large and complicated project. I feel sure that both Sidmouth residents and visitors will find “Our Town” intriguing and appealing.

Our Town is a montage of 234 artworks, including

46 favourite buildings of Sidmouth

59 houses

40 trees

21 flowers

16 people and pieces of street furniture

The remaining layers are sea, sky, parks, lawns, hedges, pavements, railings, and pebbles.

If you wish to find out more about the Exploring Art group, go to the Exploring Art webpage


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