An iconic sculpture depicting the international significance of Wicksteed Park in the development of children’s play has been unveiled to mark the completion of its £3million lake restoration project.
The life-sized bronze figures – modelled on two young visitors to the park – show a girl and a boy holding hands and paddling in the lake.
They symbolise the enduring simplicity of children’s play and the pleasure it has given to generations of families at Wicksteed Park, which is now recognised as being of international significance to the development of children’s play.
The girl, dressed in 1920s’ clothing, is also a representation of Hilda Wicksteed, the daughter of park founder Charles Wicksteed, who took over the running of the park following his death.
The new sculpture will be unveiled in front of VIP guests on Tuesday March 31 by the two children chosen to be models – nine-year-old Megan Phillips and Victor Groves (four).
It is hoped that the sculpture will become a landmark photo opportunity for generations of families as well as encouraging them to enjoy the newly-restored lake.
The restoration project has been supported by the Wicksteed Charitable Trust and the Heritage Lottery Fund along with Northamptonshire County Council and Kettering Borough Council.
The lake was one of the park’s major attractions when it was formally opened in 1921 by Charles Wicksteed as part of his vision to inspire and encourage play as part of families’ health and well-being.
It has been returned to its former glory, with 50,000 cubic meters of silt being removed and the lake deepened, with new developments including a paddling area for toddlers, a beach and a 90m pontoon.
The lake restoration also includes the conservation of a redundant roundhouse shelter built in 1924, which has been repaired, bringing it back into use as a focus for lakeside activities.
A large amphitheatre, new pathways providing access around the entire lake for the first time and an arboretum have also been created.
Oliver Wicksteed, chairman of the Wicksteed Charitable Trust, which paid for the sculpture, and Charles Wicksteed’s great grandson, said: “The sculpture represents how childhood has changed through the decades but also how, in many ways, the simple pleasures of play have remained the same.
“We are delighted to have found two children who love the park to be such wonderful models but we were also very keen to mark the significance of Hilda Wicksteed in the park’s history.
“She was a truly inspirational figure and a remarkable woman to deliver her father’s ongoing vision for the park at a time in history when women were rarely seen in such prominent roles.”
Wicksteed Park Managing Director Alasdair McNee said: “The restoration project has transformed the lake and returned it to former glories and we are very grateful to the HLF, the Wicksteed Charitable Trust Northamptonshire County Council and Kettering Borough Council for their support.
“A host of new attractions have been created around the lake and we are delighted that the new sculpture will mark the completion of what has been a very significant step towards preserving the park for future generations.”
Wellingborough artist Clare Abbatt, an Associate Member of the Northampton Town & County Art Society who has exhibited in London and across the UK, was commissioned to create the sculpture, which is accompanied by a plaque marking the contribution to the lake restoration project of the HLF and park Trustees.
She said: “Since it opened in 1921 Wicksteed Park has welcomed generations of children and families and I have been delighted to create a sculpture celebrating children’s play at the park.
“I modelled the girl waving a welcome and encouraging children to join her and the little boy in the paddling lake.
“She is holding his hand, making the connection between children who enjoyed the park when it opened in 1921 and children who enjoy it today.
“He is pulling slightly on her, keen to paddle further into the lake. It is hoped that children will paddle into the lake to join them, hold hands with them and have their photographs taken.”
The two young models were selected after an appeal for volunteers by the park last year.
Megan said: “I am really happy with how it looks. It is amazing that a sculpture of me will be in the park for years and years.”
Victor said: “Modelling for the sculpture was fun. I like paddling but not for too long in case the water is cold!”