Blackpool celebration

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Residents and passengers on National Express West Midlands’ route 18 are having their journeys brightened by a trail of around 700 hand-stitched hearts hanging on trees and railings as part of a temporary artwork called 18 at Heart.

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Woolly Mammoth Stitch Works CIC, a Birmingham-based social enterprise, started the project 18 months ago. Older residents from communities on the 18 route were invited to unleash their inner artist and stitch for a ‘yarn bomb’ while also sharing their own memories of being aged 18. Collectively, volunteer stitchers spent 1,500 hours creating hundreds of mini artworks for the display, which can be found along 5.5 miles of the route including parts of Yardley Wood, Billesley, Brandwood, Kings Heath, Druids Heath, Monyhull, Cotteridge, Kings Norton and Northfield. Although delayed by a year, people living and travelling along the route will now be able to enjoy a splash of colour and creativity over the next three weeks, and stitchers involved in the project hope the tapestry hearts will lift people’s spirits even more as we emerge from lockdown.

Valerie, who had just retired when she was first told to isolate, was among the first to join the stitch team. “Stitching the hearts during those challenging times was therapeutic and helped me relax and stop thinking about the troubles of the world. When I finished each heart, it gave me a sense of achievement. I’ve become a bit of an artistic rebel since and also started decorating my local post box for local families to enjoy!”

Suze Carter, one of the Woolly Mammoth team, said of the start of the project: “We had only just started running stitching workshops before the lockdown forced us to stop, but we wanted to carry on so people participated from home. It wasn’t long before we were coordinating a team of over 40 over-50s, stitching hearts and swapping stories of being 18. For many of the stitch team who were shielding, being involved was a welcome distraction and a way to feel connected to other people during such a difficult time, even if they were strangers.”

National Express West Midlands supported the project by encouraging passengers to look out for the hand-stitched hearts. Operations Manager Tom Kinsey said: “Our buses have continued running throughout the pandemic and played a huge part in tackling isolation by keeping communities connected, so we loved the fact that 18 at Heart provided further support for those who were shielding.

“Woolly Mammoth Stitch Works has done a fantastic job with this project by engaging local residents and helping to prevent loneliness at home. We hope our passengers will enjoy the hand-crafted tapestry hearts while travelling along the 18 route.”