WHEN Lolly Stewart-Thomas’s young son asked what the obscene graffiti scrawled over the local underpass meant, she decided it was time to do something about it.

But despite putting in a complaint and hearing that Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO) was already on the case, it was tricky to establish who was responsible.

As a secondary school art teacher, army spouse and former reservist, Lolly had a vision of how the space, leading to a military patch in Colchester, could be improved, and 18 months later she finally got the project off the ground.
“It upset me that my son had read such things, and others felt the same,” explained Lolly. “There were a couple of ventures that didn’t quite happen, then my husband received a round-robin email requesting artists.
“I put my name forward with my design, and along with Tina Denmark from DIO, we started to lead the project.”

Drumming up support
Lolly recruited two more artists, Paige Brandon and Amy Sparkes, and a number of other volunteers. “We had a joint goal and the kudos of being involved in something so available for public appreciation spurred people on to help.”

Volunteers came in many forms: “A family friend looked after my two youngest children whilst I painted which was a huge part of the logistics,” said Lolly. “And people brought us snacks and drinks to keep us going.”

The project involved both military and civilian families, something that Lolly was keen to reflect in the design. “I spoke with military and civilian children about what they would like from the space to make sure we set the tone right. During the community painting day, we had contributions from civilian and military families, all making their mark. Local counsellors and our MP contributed too – it reached quite a wide network of interest!”

A big difference
Colchester Garrison supported the project form the outset, funding some of the materials, while paint was provided by Trade Paint Colchester, Kent Blaxhil and CLC. Four sets of railings, specially treated by 8 Field Company to include Tommies and poppies, were added to finish it off.

Army spouse Angie Eaves said: “It makes the dog walk and school runs more pleasant; we don’t avoid the underpass now.”

“I’ve had so many lovely comments,” added Lolly. “People don’t mind walking their children through there now and it’s a talking point – people feel proud of this little bit of art. It’s been a lot of fun for the whole community.”

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