The Workington Christmas Tree Project – “Frames of Mind”


The Brief:

So… two weeks ago PANDA comissioned me to design and build a Christmas Tree installation, in Workington Town Hall, on behalf of the new labour MEP for the North – Julie Ward, formerly a PANDA associate, and now a Patron…  Not your every day brief!  Right away my mind started whirring.  The brief included coming up with the design concept for an installation which could be reused next year and onwards, not using a real tree.  Also I was asked to somehow create and deliver accompanying workshops to decorate it – for the many groups using the Town Hall as their base, including especially the mental health charity MIND – co-ordinators, volunteers and drop in members.  Add to this Counsellors, Estates Teams, Arts Officers, Citizens Advice Bureau workers and more.  I had just ten days, but I was inspired! 

I got to thinking about how I could make the tree structure.  I have built my own sets for shows, and am more than used to rolling as a one man band – directing, designing, lighting, filming, all in one go.  But I would need a little helper given the time constraint. I needed an elf, and not just any elf… and what with it being so close to Christmas… Most elves are busy entertaining or preparing for the big day ahead.  So… after a good ole headscratch  I thought – bingo! – who better than Pete Blacker? Quite elf like by anyones standards.  Polymath extraordinaire, engineer, scientist, computer whizz, avid climber and – with a man with van business on the side. Thankfully Pete was happy to come on board!

Thinking of things I could stack to make the tree reminded me of several years working as a picture framer assistant to photographer, artist and picture framer Jack Lloyd at the House of Bystander Gallery on Beech Road in Chorlton.  We used to stack the frames in a kind of spiral so they wouldn’t fall over…


The Workshop:

I decided a Photography related workshop was the best way to decorate the tree.  Drawing on my background in delivering film and photo workshops.  My thinking – use the people themselves as decorations through making cut-outs of photos I would take.  Most of them wouldn’t have much time so it had to be simple and time efficient, and arranged as a drop in session.  Star jumps sprang to mind as a way of quickly creating a cut out paper doll chain.  The MIND team and drop in members did the majority of the cutting out…

MIND group Tree project

I got to searching and found several job lots of frames.  The plan was taking shape!

Jack Lloyd donated a dozen frames, and Arison framers donated one big one which became the base of the stack.  Chris Davies collected the rest of the frames from as far as Harrogate and York, and Pete picked up a Pallette or two from Unicorn.  We got others along with a 3 x 3 inch post from Trafford Timber and away we went.  We arrived at 1:30 on Monday the 8th of December, and got stuck in straight away.  By 11 pm we had made the basic structure!  Watch the 90 second timelapse here…

The next two days saw the decorating workshops add the finishing touches to the tree…

The Concept: Frames of MIND

The project was to involve people who use the building including an emphasis on working with a group from Mental Health charity MIND, who brought along a number of drop in members to facilitate the decorating of the tree.  They posed for the star jump photos and cut out and stapled the chain together as well as coming up with the idea of spelling out the word MIND.  At first they said, ‘it’s a shame we can’t do that’ to which I responded ‘why not?!’  So we did. 


Themes and Symbols:

I wanted a strong Euro Theme to the Tree as it has been commissioned in conjunction with new Labour MEP Julie Ward moving her offices into Workington Town Hall.

The Pallettes that form the base of the tree reflect the notion of trade being the foundation of Europe, wrapped in a bunting chain of all 28 current EU member countries’ Flags

There is a Clockface in one of the picture frames, near the base of the tree – its hands are turned to 11:11 in reference to the end of the first world war, which marked in many ways the beginning of Europe as we know it.

Mirrors & Star Jumps:  All the people working in and from the building were asked to come and be photographed and help decorate the tree.  30 people came and posed for photos of them doing a star jump wearing a Christmas themed hats… and horns and antlers. The photos were printed, star shapes cut out and hands stapled together by the group from MIND.

We also placed the EU Flag, alongside the Cumbrian flag and the flag for Workington’s twin city of Selm on the walls behind the tree, to reflect their link and unity. 

The European Union Flag was a useful inspiration.  It’s 12 stars are said to represent original member countries but in actual fact were based on the book of revelations,  according the artist and designer Arsène Heitz.  The flag bears resemblance to the twelve-star halo of the Virgin Mary, as described in the Apocalypse, also known as the Book of Revelation, the final book of the New Testament, referencing “…a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.”

The tree contains the flags inspiration in the design.  Secreted into the base of the tree is a moon picture that came from one of the frames.  It represents “the moon under her feet”.

The stars are depicted by the mirrorball at the top, also reflecting out to the stars, and starjumpers who use the town hall!

There are several other hidden treasures in the tree, which will take a keen eye to find!

Check out this 1 minute video of the finished Tree…

Thanks To Anne-Marie and PANDA, Julie Ward and all at Workington Town Hall.  Special thanks to Konrad, Barbara and Chris at Workington Town Hall!

The tree turned out to be 6’6″ – ironically the same height as me…