How Scotland's Covid Memorial is beginning to help heal
IT was a passing comment from a groundsman at Pollok Country Park to artist Alec Finlay that reaffirmed that the National Covid Memorial was beginning to help people to heal.
More than six months on since the initial phase of I remember - Scotland’s Covid Memorial officially opened, work is due to begin on a second phase. A further series of oak tree supports will be installed throughout the park to complete a memorial walk.
The memorial was the result of a two-year Herald campaign to create a dedicated place for people affected by the covid pandemic to visit for quiet contemplation and a place of hope.
Read more: Trainspotting actor Robert Carlyle's tears as he read poignant messages for Scotland's Covid memorial
The first phase of the near £250,000 project, the Riverside Grove, officially opened in May in the presence of Deputy First Minister John Swinney, Glasgow’s Lord Provost Jacqueline McLaren and many families who had been affected or bereaved.
“I met a groundsman who has been mowing the Riverside Grove and he stopped me to ask if I was the artist,” said Mr Finlay. “He said people had been coming from all over Scotland to the memorial and were very touched and he seemed to have a clear sense of ownership of the site. He wanted to stop and tell me that it was helping people.
“For any artwork I have made in the world it is very rare for anyone to write or say anything. So I don’t often hear a lot but the overall feeling I have is that people are happy. The fact that I haven’t heard from too many people, I take as a good sign that perhaps they are getting on with their lives and that they are happy and that they feel this is a place where they can go.”
Next week work will begin to install further supports over the course of the next couple of months with the expectation that the memorial will be complete by the third anniversary of the first national lockdown in March 2023.
Read more: Watch: Scotland's Covid Memorial officially opened by John Swinney
As well as the Riverside Grove focal point and a series of supports at Birch Grove, there will also be a Beech Grove along what is known as the Ash Road.
I think plenty of people visit the memorial, but they all grieve in their own way
“There is a much clearer sense of a walk developing and Ash Road will become a very important link. The main route will be the walk from Riverside to Birch Grove. There will be some supports around Pollok House. At ground level on Ash Road there will be a sign and bench with a support on an oak tree close by. You will also be able to walk up a hill to a plateau which will have around five supports which people who helped form the poses may be able to easily recognise themselves.
“I think plenty of people visit the memorial, but they all grieve in their own way. It is not just about the physical memorial. There is the I remember website, the book and the audiobook which is all available to them,” added Mr Finlay. “I think a lot of people are not aware that there are more supports to make and I think people will be impressed when it is finished.”
The Herald worked with partners Glasgow City Council, who offered to host the memorial in Pollok Country Park, and our commissioning partner Scotland’s parks and outdoor charity, greenspace Scotland. We received many high-profile donations including more than £40,000 from the Scottish Government and donations from Sir Tom Hunter and Lord Willie Haughey.
As a way of reaching out to people, Mr Finlay used the idea of I remember prompts – single sentences which summed up how a person was feeling during the pandemic. These were collated in the I remember book which was released earlier this year along with moving audio which was recorded by actor Robert Carlyle who admitted he was moved to tears while reading the phrases.
Mr Finlay added: “We have only had a few I remembers lately and I didn’t think that is a bad thing. I hope it means people are working towards an end goal in their minds and the people who sent them in are happy that they have been involved.”
For Mr Finlay, who lives with the effects of long covid, being asked to create the memorial was very personal for him and while it is early days he is trying to gauge the response to the memorial.
“There are two different ways I think you gauge it. You have your own perception of whether it is well done or not, but a lot of what you feel about it comes from people. What mattered to me was one bereaved relative, Peter recognising himself in a pose for that genuine catharsis. It is not necessarily aesthetics or critical praise - it wasn’t about that. I don’t often see it like a painter might see a painting, I see it in the world, with people and how they relate to it. The pride is not in myself, it is in seeing people heal."
Find out more about the memorial here https://www.iremember.scot/