The new Paper Boat art gallery hopes to become a creative hub for the community of Ellesmere Port

PUBLISHED: 00:17 07 May 2013

Artists, Edward Wilson and Sonja Moss-Dolega at Ellesmere Port Boat Museum chatting with Diana Skilbeck, President of the Boat Museum Society.

Artists, Edward Wilson and Sonja Moss-Dolega at Ellesmere Port Boat Museum chatting with Diana Skilbeck, President of the Boat Museum Society.

Archant

The new Paper Boat art gallery launches this month and hopes to become a creative hub for the community of Ellesmere Port.

Words by heidi nagaitis PHOTOGRAPHY BY JOHN COCKS

Artists, Edward Wilson and Sonja Moss-Dolega at Ellesmere Port Boat MuseumArtists, Edward Wilson and Sonja Moss-Dolega at Ellesmere Port Boat Museum

Ellesmere Port is renowned worldwide for its industrial heritage. Perched on the Manchester Ship Canal, the town has been a centre of innovation for the oil and chemical industries.

However, 2013 sees Ellesmere Port embrace a new creative future, heavily centred on the arts and including the North West’s first community art project the ‘Paper Boat Gallery’, which is due to open this month (May 2013).

Artists, Edward Wilson and Sonja Moss-Dolega at the site of the new Art Gallery in Whitby Road, Ellesmere Port, where this team youths is hard a work as part of a community based Access to Training Programme to convert the premisesArtists, Edward Wilson and Sonja Moss-Dolega at the site of the new Art Gallery in Whitby Road, Ellesmere Port, where this team youths is hard a work as part of a community based Access to Training Programme to convert the premises

The enterprise, located on Whitby Road, is the product of a new scheme run by the council which looked to fill the vacant property with a community interest group. The project offered the landlord a peppercorn rent with the guarantee that the unused retail unit would be renovated to modern specifications. However, unusually the landlord suggested that the council nominate an organisation and, after a competitive process, the business concept put forward by Edward Wilson and Sonja Moss Dolega was chosen.

‘We were ecstatic that we managed to secure this property,’ said Edward, a retired history lecturer and artist. ‘It’s fantastic that Ellesmere Port, one of the only councils in the county to accept funding for these community projects, has been so supportive.’

The project created and managed by Edward and professional ceramicist, Sonja Moss Dolega, looks to strengthen the bonds within the local community through the medium of art. The pair, who met by chance, saw creativity as a way of giving back to their local community in Ellesmere Port.

‘The town has really suffered over the years due to commercial developments on its outskirts,’ said Sonja. ‘We’re just trying to cut through this negativity with a little brightness in the form of a community arts project.’

The scheme involves a number of professional and semi-professional artists from across the North West and Wales, with exhibitors including well-known Manchester photographer Ian Bramham and animal sculptor Michelle Cox. However, as well as allowing the public to see and even purchase varied works, the directors hope the community will take part in the classes they are planning to host.

‘It’s really important to us that the people of Ellesmere port have the opportunity to interact with the materials used to create the art on display here,’ said Sonja. ‘That’s why the Paper Boat Gallery will be offering a number of classes, taught by artists, allowing the public to hone their skills in drawing, painting and ceramics among other fields.’

‘These classes will also encourage interaction between different members of the community. Hopefully this venture will not only help people learn new skills but also make new friends,’ said Edward.

Sonja and Edward hope to run art projects in conjunction with schools. This would see local artists work with children to help them discover new talents.

The gallery has been registered as a Community Interest Company, one of the new indicators of a semi-charitable organisation. This means that Edward and Sonja will initially be relying on volunteers to help run the gallery.

Edward explained: ‘We know employment opportunities are scarce at the moment, especially for young people, but volunteering at the gallery would be an interesting insight into the art world as well as being valuable experience in running a business. Young people need this type of experience on their CV.’

To cement the Paper Boat Gallery as the social hub of Ellesmere Port, Sonja and Edward are keen to forge ties with groups in the area.

Sonja, who as a member of the Conway Ceramics Cooperative has welcomed the involvement of artists from Wales, said: ‘It’s fantastic that we have my Welsh friends and colleagues on board, however we need to build the same strong relationships with local art and church groups.

‘It is so important to us that we appreciate the significance of this project socially as well as creatively, so local groups and societies please get in touch – I’m sure we can find a way to work together.’

Why did Edward and Sonja name their new unit the rather flimsy-sounding ‘Paper Boat Gallery’?

Sonja said: ‘Paper boats are something that anyone can make and to a child, the very act of creating something beautiful from very little is magical. They’re also made to sail, allowing one to set out on an imaginary journey of discovery.

‘Although unsure of where the boat may end up, one can guarantee that the voyage itself will be wondrous, an experience which we feel mirrors the journey of our gallery.’

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