“SUNDERLAND deserves this” – that was the rallying call from the group behind The People’s Monument.
A public meeting was held at the Westminster pub, in High Street West, to discuss the proposal to put up a permanent art work in celebration of our Armed Forces.
The monument has been designed by Ray Lonsdale, the sculptor behind Tommy in Seaham, a memorial to First World War casualties, which has captured the nation’s imagination.
Unlike the Tommy memorial, The People’s Monument would be a celebration of soldiers, sailors and airmen and their commitment to their country over the past three centuries.
The estimated cost of the monument is £270,000 and organisers hope funders, businesses and individuals will get on board.
A People’s Monument song will also be released in the New Year, as well as on-going fund-raising events.
The artwork will feature three figures, one to represent each of the forces, with a central plinth supporting a statue of Britannia.
Ray, who teamed up with former soldier Paul Jasper for the monument, said: “Paul came to me with the idea of three figures to represent each of the forces, but we needed something to bring it together, to give it soul, to give it heart and reason.
“That’s where the idea of Britannia came from, she is the common denominator, she is who they all serve and protect.”
In future, members of the public will be able to buy discs, starting from about £25, which will be engraved with their names and incorporated into the final monument.
In Seaham, Tommy was bought thanks to a community campaign to raise the £85,000 needed to buy and keep Tommy in the town.
“We hope people get behind it,” said Ray.
“It’s a different driving force to Tommy. You get a much more emotional response from sorrow and suffering, represented by Tommy.
“This monument is more of a celebration and we want people to get behind it, to create interest.
“It’s not just a block of stone, kids can run between the legs and feel part of it.”
It would take Ray about 15 months to sculpt the monument in his South Hetton studio, using the same material as Tommy.
The driving force behind the monument is Paul Jasper and fellow committee members, who stage the city’s annual Armed Forces Weekend each June.
“Our main aim is that by this time next year everyone in Sunderland will have heard of The People’s Monument,” said Paul from Castletown, who served for 23 years in the Light Infantry and Royal Green Jackets.
“We want everyone to embrace it. We have the best Armed Forces in the world and the general public support them impeccably.
“We had been thinking of coming up with a project which everyone could get involved in.
“Then I went to Seaham to see Tommy and it was like a ray of sunshine. I thought ‘this is what we need to be doing’.
“The atmosphere at Tommy is unlike any other I’ve experienced at a statue. You just look at him and feel involved.
“£180,000 has been spent on trees for the new highway. No disrespect, but I think the people of Sunderland deserve more.
“The amount for the monument is a pittance compared to what we’ve spent on other projects in Sunderland.”
Paul is in talks with the council about putting the monument in Keel Square, the new public square being built in the city centre.
If that site isn’t made available, the public will be able to vote on other locations.
He said: “What happened with Tommy in Seaham was phenomenal, in terms of the people it’s attracted and the positive benefit for businesses.
“This is an opportunity for us to recognise our forces on a daily basis, not just on Armed Forces Day.”