Today, we were visiting with family in St. Helens in the North West of England and we were blessed with one of those rare and beautiful January days: cold but brilliantly lit, with a Wolf Moon hanging in the clear blue daytime sky. It was the perfect day to visit something exceptional: an iconic statue called ‘Dream’.
‘Dream’ stands on a hill, with views over the North West, and is surrounded by woodlands, a pond and pathways that allow easy access to this open space for everyone.
Today, it was a pleasant place to go for a walk. Then we came to a bend in the path and saw, at the top of the hill, the white marble of ‘Dream’ made luminous by the late afternoon sun.
‘The Dream’ is a twenty-meter high statue of a girl’s head. She has her eyes closed. She looks peaceful, perhaps even hopeful, as she dreams.
Why is she there?
To understand that, you need to know a little about the history of the area.
‘The Dream’ stands on what was once the pithead for the Sutton Manor Colliery. The twenty-metre high head is supported by thirty-eight-meter deep concrete foundations, sunk into the old pit.
To understand its significance, it’s helpful to know the local history. Coal mining shaped this area. Work started on the Sutton Manor pit in 1906 and generations of miners and their families worked in it, producing coal from 1910 to 1991. At its peak, in 1964, it employed 1,400 people and produced 1500 tons of coal per week. In 1984 there was a year-long strike that is still remembered with bitterness against the actions of the Thatcher government who wanted to break the Trade Union Movement and for the generosity of the people in the North West, and especially Liverpool, who offered support to the miners. Thatcher won. The union lost. Pit closures followed across England. Thirty years ago, in 1991, the National Coal Board declared Sutton Manor Colliery to be unviable and closed the pit with forty years of coal still in the ground. The local economy was devastated, a way of life was destroyed and the colliery became a wasteland.
Ten years later, the Forestry Commission leased the site and started project ‘Wasteland to Woodland’, compacting the soil and planting trees to stabilise the land.
This regeneration gave energy to a long-standing desire of the former miners to have some kind of memorial to the old colliery and their lost way of life. In 2006, the local council agreed to build a memorial and selected Jaume Plensa as the artist.
In August 2007, Plensa made his first proposal to the steering group: a monument in the shape of a twenty-metre miner’s lamp called ‘The Miner’s Soul’. The former miners on the steering committee rejected the proposal as too backwards-looking and asked for something more present-day and progressive.
In 2008 Jaume Plensa proposed ‘Dream’, a landmark that was designed to give hope for future generations and become a positive symbol for the area. ‘Dream’ was a twenty-metre high statue of the head and neck of a nine-year-old girl that has been elongated by a third. Her eyes are closed in quiet contemplation, dreaming not only about her future but also that of the former colliery site and St Helens. It’s white to replicate light and to contrast the darkness of the mine and coal that lies beneath. ‘Dream’ sits on a plinth of a giant miners tally as a reminder of the heritage of the site. It’s lit at night and has an additional beam of light from the sculpture’s head that goes into the sky.
Jaume Plensa told the committee that
“Despite her wonderful vantage point and view, the girl’s eyes are closed, looking inward. This is in part my homage to the miners and their dream of light when underground…
…when we dream, anything is possible”
The former miners loved the concept and construction of ‘Dream’ went ahead and was completed in 2009, seventeen years after the colliery was closed.
‘Dream’ is thirteen-years-old this year and it still looks stunning.
It makes you pause. It gives you hope. It prompts you to dream.