Public Art Leading Wayfinding

The background of Thame’s Public Art Strategy

‘Section 106 agreements’ are put in place with the developers to raise money for infrastructure to support new housing developments. They are drawn up by South Oxfordshire District Council before they grant planning permission, so the developer is legally bound to deliver the infrastructure agreed. Money is collected from the developer once the planning permission is implemented and when certain points in the agreement have been met. Included in this funding is money that is restricted to be spent on certain areas, and one of these is Public Art. 

To avoid the installation of various pieces of art that have little significance and seem a waste of money, a Public Art Strategy [Word Document] was created by a working group that included members of the community alongside Thame Town Councillors and an SODC Arts Officer. This strategy identified possible locations for Public Art, as well as aims and ambitions for how it could be used to meet needs in the community as well as something beautiful to look at. 

Project 1: Public Art Leading Wayfinding

The first project to be implemented is one that aims to improve the wayfinding around Thame so that residents and visitors are encouraged to walk more, rather than always use their cars. The project has developed and will eventually lead to 3 exciting trails leading across Thame. These will be trails that you can enjoy, as an activity in themselves, but will also play a crucial role in helping people to walk easily across the town, using the footpaths and infrastructure already in place. We hope the trails will encourage you to leave your car at home more often, and bring an element of fun to your journey, as well at the opportunity to learn more about your town’s heritage and history. The trails will include: 

  1. A story trail (leading from Thame Meadows estate on the Oxford Road into the town centre)
  2. A fun fact trail (leading from the town centre across Lea Park – helping you to connect easily with locations such as the skate park, football stadium and rugby club) 
  3. A poetry trail (this will not be completed in this phase of the work, but is a project for the future that will connect the town centre to the new housing estates on Wenman Road)

Nicola Henshaw: Lead artist for the project

In July 2021 Thame Town Council announced the successful appointment of Nicola Henshaw who is leading the way in implementing some new Public Art across Thame, funded by Section 106 monies. Nicola has worked on many public art projects and the Public Art Working Group was drawn to both the quality of her craftmanship as well as her passion for engaging with the community. In her own words: 

‘The public art commissions I undertake involve community workshops which are an integral part of the artwork I create. This gives the community an important sense of ownership and involvement in the project.  A love of narrative forms is key to my work.  I am fascinated by stories and social history; memories, which can be passed down to future generations, create a legacy and pride in belonging to a community’.

The Process so far

In the summer of 2021, between the Covid restrictions we faced that year, Pat Winslow, a professional storyteller, was brought in by Nicola to deliver workshops to develop a ‘Story of Thame’. The workshops engaged people from all sections of our community, children and adults, people new to Thame and those who have lived here their whole life. Through these workshops a story was created that weaves elements of Thame’s history into a magical and intriguing tale of adventure set in three locations, in three very different times. 

Listen to the story in full here [MP3].

We are currently working with some local children to come up with a name for the story trail, which will be revealed in time. 

The Waymarkers

Following a walk around Thame, and drawing inspiration from this story, Nicola Henshaw then moved on to develop way markers that both brought the story to life, connected to Thame’s heritage and assisted in marking a walking route into town. 

Each way marker will contain imagery and words associated with Thame and the story. The cut out elements of the markers frame views in Thame that you will be able to learn about through a QR codes which will take you to a webpage with more information. These webpages will also allow you to find out more about each element of the totem and what it represents, delving into both the history and heritage of Thame touched on in the story, as well thinking about the future of our town.