The Big Dog Art Trail
And so, as some say that is the end of that! Here at The Training Fox, we say such a shame that good things have to come to an end.
Of course, we are referring to our Charity of the Year, Julia’s House Children’s Hospice’s Big Dog Art Trail that has been running through the summer in Swindon. The aims of the trail were to raise awareness of this amazing charity in Swindon and the wider areas, as well as to raise vital funds for their work.
We first heard about the trail and the plans for it way back in July 2022, when Chris Hyde and Jo Common from Julia’s House brought a SwinPup to our Networking group, Business Buzz. As we were listening to Chris speak about the trail and the plans for the year, the excitement for an art trail built straight away, and we knew that we wanted to be involved in some way. And so, our association with Julia’s House began.
The Trail Begins
We skip forward to 15th July this year, when 30 larger than life balloon dog art sculptures popped up in Swindon, along with 42 of their smaller counterparts. The big sculptures had been designed and decorated by artists up and down the country, some who have done many of these trails over the years, and some for who’s this trail was their first sculpture, this includes the youngest artist that has ever produced a Wild in Art trail. At 12 years old, Morgan Guillery who produced Steam pup. The swinpups were designed and decorated by the local community and schools. The idea was that at the end of the trail the schools Swinpups would return home to the school as a legacy of the project and for the schools’ children, and staff to enjoy for years to come. This was the first art trail to feature the Balloon Dog shape.
Excited by the trail, we set out on the first Sunday, and saw some of the amazing sculptures, in the town centre, and down by the Link Centre, where we met the awesome Hot Dog, along with several of the brilliant Swinpups created by schools. Each of the sculptures were beautifully decorated, and whilst the weather turned from nice sunshine to few drops of rain, it did not dull the experience. Whilst out and about on this first exploration, we were lucky enough to see Sharon and Kerry from Julia’s House who were out checking on the dogs, as well as raising the awareness of the charity. It was really nice to stop and have a chat with these lovely ladies, before venturing on to see more of the amazing artwork.
Our second Walkies
We next ventured out on the first Tuesday (18th July) with the sole intention of making our first ever Facebook Live which was designed to be our CharityTuesday event for the week, showing viewers the walk from the car park to the first of the dogs to be seen at Lydiard Park. Hiding in Lydiard Park were 4 beautiful big dogs, each totally different and unique. In the walled garden at Lydiard Park saw the location of Papillon, a beautiful sculpture covered in thousands of individuals designed and cut out metallic butterflies. Papillon was voted as the best sculpture on the trail on the app. Whilst the plan was to do see the 4 at Lydiard Park, naturally we took in some more of the dogs whilst out and about in Swindon.
Our 3rd walk about town to see the dogs, saw us joined by Steve’s eldest niece on the trail. This was the day that she started the trail on the app, and a good afternoon was had visiting some of the dogs that we had seen before along with some new ones. It was on this trip around the town that we met Patches, the big dog that had been designed and painted by the children and siblings of the children that use the service provided by Julia’s House. Patches is a Dog that we believe should be returned to the front of the hospice after the auction, it remains to be seen, who brought this and what they decide to do with the dog. As we walked around the trail, visiting parts of Swindon that we had never visited or were aware of before, we realised that Swindon has some really lovely green spaces that will need to be explored further in the months ahead.
It was in the second week of August that we completed the trail, by visiting the 72nd and last of the sculptures on the trail. Our last to find sculpture was Home is Where the Dog is. While going on the trail and looking at the map on the app, this one was the one furthest to the East of Swindon, and was all on its own, the location of the dog which really makes sense with its name, was at a house building site. Having completed our trail, we then continued to ensure that both Steve’s and his niece’s app showed all sculptures had been collected, meaning that we saw most of the dogs twice on the trail.
By having this colourful, unique Dogs out and about in Swindon, it has definitely brightened up the town, Children and adults alike were spotted enjoying the sculptures. In every conversation that we have with people out and about around the trail, it was discussed how lovely the dogs were and how they had brightened up the town, from this we can summarise that they were appreciated by the town’s folk.
It is with regret that as we review the summer trail, that 2 of the dogs were vandalised whilst out and about in the town. The 2 dogs that were vandalised were:
- Guard Dog, and
- The Gold of Life.
Guard Dog sadly had been keyed in several places, while The Gold of Life had his nose broken off. We are pleased to confirm that both dogs were repaired, and no sign of damage was evident during the farewell weekend.
It is thought that about 23,000 people took part in the trail, notching up somewhere in the reason of 30,000,000 steps in the 7 weeks the sculpture trail was running. The benefit to the local economy is predicted to be in the region of about £3,000,000.
It was at the farewell weekend, (16th and 17th September) that we once again saw the dogs and pups, once again as they were all gathered at Steam to be seen one last time, before they got auctioned off to go to their new fur-ever homes. The hall was a hive of activity with children and adults admiring the dogs and seeing them all together in one place. We were lucky enough to meet 4 of the artists of the dogs and have a conversation with them about their artwork and inspirations for the sculpture. The 4 we met were:
- Morgan Guillery (Steam Pup),
- Judy Guillery (Love Grows),
- (my) Sound Trauma – Steve Curtis (Dog Rogers), and
- Amrit Singh (MrASingh) – Creative Twist.
We were also lucky enough to meet MrASingh’s Mini Creative Twist a miniature version of his Big Dog Creative Twist, created using the same paints and style, he told us that he would also be auctioning this off in order to raise funds for Julia’s House.
The final event of the summer for these dogs was the auction. All the big dogs were auctioned off to get them a new home, along with Mini Creative Twist and a blank Swinpup. We were pleased to be at the auction, experiencing television’s Charlie Hanson from BBCs Flog it, auction each of the lots, whipping up the bidding public both in the room and online. He was full of energy and encouraged the bidding war to grow to ensure the best possible price for each dog. The biggest priced dog on the night was Penny for your thoughts which was sold for an amazing £15,000. This amazing dog was covered in coins, thousands of pennies adorned the sculpture along with some older crowns and half crown coins. It is fair to say that Penny for your Thoughts gleamed under the lights of the Steam Museum on auction night as well as the Outlet Village where it was stationed during the trail.
The result of the evening saw a grand total of £165,800 raised for the charity, whilst this will be invaluable for supporting the lives of children with life limiting illnesses and their families, it is guaranteed that the whole summer event will have raised the awareness of the Julia’s House Wiltshire and Dorset Children’s Hospice exponentially than ever before.
We wonder how many hundreds and thousands of photographs have been taken of these amazing SwinDogs over the summer, we have an album of almost 1,000 pictures of them and are sure that we cannot be the only ones to have such an array of images. Many will have taken pictures of their children with the dogs, not only that but we have seen many photographs of real-life dogs with the SwinDogs.
This really was a 9-week experience that brought the town of Swindon and the wider community together for a greater cause and helped to raise the awareness of a very deserving cause.
Martin Edwards Julia’s House CEO said:
‘The Julia’s House nurses and carers
look after seriously ill children in our community,
not just with clinical skills but with tremendous compassion,
and by bringing fun and play to every day possible.
The Big Dog Art Trail was huge for us, raising £165,000 for this care service
but also highlighting
its importance to the general public,
whose support will be vital to look after these children
in the years to come.
Thank you everyone for supporting the Trail and helping Julia’s House!’
Julia’s House Wiltshire and Dorset Children’s Hospice
are our designated Charity of the Year for 2023/24
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