Friday 16th July

A project which aims to bring cheer and colour to the streets of Coventry while tackling the problem of loneliness and isolation brought about since the first lockdown has been given a helping hand by the Heart of England Co-operative Society.

The Society, which operates a network of Food stores and Funeral homes across Coventry, Warwickshire, south Leicestershire and Northamptonshire, donated £500 to Summer of Sunflowers – the brainchild of Coventry resident Mark Halpin.

The money was used towards the creation of a brightly coloured mural featuring sunflowers and bees, painted by local artist Katie O on the side of O’Toole’s Café in Earlsdon Avenue North.

After moving into a new home in Earlsdon last year Mark first came up with the idea of a campaign of colour after admiring a neighbour’s garden.

He also took inspiration from Coventry’s Window Wonderland project which saw windows across the city light up the dark nights last winter.

Keen to recreate something similar Mark combined ideas from the two and spoke with his new neighbours to gauge their interest.

Earlier this year he started distributing sunflower seeds in his street. Over time the project has continued to gather momentum with Earlsdon Library, The Co-operative at Earlsdon and various schools across the city coming on board.

The Heart of England Co-operative Society has further strengthened its links with the campaign, agreeing to loan a side wall in Poplar Road for a second mural. There are also further plans for more projects elsewhere in Coventry later in the summer.

Mark said: “The aim of this project is to help build and strengthen communities, improve mental health – among children as much as among adults – and to brighten the place up for people.

“To one person it might mean just a sunflower but with other people it can really give a lift, resulting in conversations on doorsteps and a focal point allowing people to engage with others in their communities.

“We know there have been many people suffering from loneliness and isolation since the first lockdown. But with the feedback we have had, we know that this project has created a focal point and has helped people to reconnect with their communities and to regain their confidence after being stuck indoors for so long. Some communities have even established their own WhatsApp groups as a result.”

Since the project began Mark and fellow volunteers have distributed between 2,000 and 3,000 seeds through various letterboxes and among schools, scout groups and other community organisations.

Although not a fundraising project some people have given donations which Mark and his team have donated to Pass The Smile For Ben – set up in memory of seven-year-old Ben Crowther from Coventry who died from rhabdomyosarcoma – a form of cancer – in 2019.

Mark and his team are now looking to continue raising funds for more seeds as demand continues to grow.

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