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Opinions divided over ‘rusty’ Wick lane artworks

By Alan Hendry

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One of the artworks at Market Lane. Picture: Sustrans
One of the artworks at Market Lane. Picture: Sustrans

Artworks that are intended to make Wick town more appealing have instead been branded “appalling” by some online critics.

The creative installations in various lanes connected to High Street were described by unimpressed social media users as rusty-looking eyesores.

Some felt the money would have been better spent on addressing the recurring problems of potholes and empty shops. Others took a more positive view of the newly completed Wick Lanes Pocket Places and pointed out that the funding was ring-fenced so couldn’t have been used for any other purpose.

Eyebrows have also been raised about two dialect phrases used in one of the artworks, as they appear to be Aberdeenshire terms rather than Caithness.

The project has been supported by the Scottish Government through Sustrans Scotland’s Pocket Places programme and delivered in partnership with Highland Council and the Royal Burgh of Wick Community Council. It has been billed as a starting point for wider town centre regeneration.

Five works by local artists Aimee Lockwood and Hannah Cambridge, inspired by historic images from the Johnston collection and other elements of local history, have been installed at Wares Lane (Back Bridge Street), John Street and Market Lane (leading down to the river).

The artworks have been plasma-cut from weathering steel. They are described by Sustrans as "durable, long-lasting interventions" that will "bring life and colour back to the area".

Highland Council leader Raymond Bremner said the artworks would make the town centre "a more inviting and appealing place in a small way”.

Reaction on Facebook appeared to be largely negative after a news story last week about the completion of the project.

Alan Taylor commented: “I think rust is a great metaphor for the slow deterioration of Wick due to neglect. If that was the brief then they’ve nailed it.”

In a similar vein, Ryan Sinclair observed: “It immediately looks like it's old and hasn't been looked after, so at least it is in keeping with the rest of the town.”

A decorative metal barrier in John Street featuring dialect phrases... but does anyone in Caithness say 'Fit lek 'e day'? Picture: Sustrans
A decorative metal barrier in John Street featuring dialect phrases... but does anyone in Caithness say 'Fit lek 'e day'? Picture: Sustrans

Karen Thain was in agreement, writing: “I’m really sorry, but to me, from a distance, they look a rusty mess.”

Michael Edwardson put it more bluntly: “It’s bloody appalling, not appealing.”

Sharon Campbell expressed what appeared to be a widely held view by suggesting: “Fix the potholes, that would make it more an inviting and appealing place.”

Vivien Watt noted: “Unfortunately the artwork doesn’t stand out at all and they look rusty already. The idea that they would brighten up the town hasn’t come to fruition at all.”

Christine Matheson suggested it was “a wee bit early for April fool”.

Calvin John Wilson was more favourably disposed towards the project and its aims.

He stated: “Well done to this small team for trying their best to lighten our town centre. There’s a much larger issue here that people seem to be missing. The small amount of ring-fenced money to complete this project would never have been spent on fixing the roads – it wouldn’t have even scratched the surface. The real issue lies with the lack of funding across the board.”

Gillian Risbridger wrote: “I actually like them, and think well done to the artists and group who have designed these. I understand that after a short time these boards will look lovely, just let them go through their 'rusty' look stage first.”

Kathryn Bunch similarly sought to take a balanced view: “I get that everyone is upset at the state of the town. I am too – never ever thought I'd see our town so rundown and in such a state. The thing is, though, there are certain grants given for particular projects, the money can't be used for anything else. People will give up on doing anything to try and improve things if all they get is criticism.”

Maura Szyfelbain called the project a good idea in theory, but added: “The medium used looks like we've gotten them second hand!

“I'm all for improving the town but more should be done to lower rates and rents on premises by greedy private landlords to allow businesses to flourish and provide jobs.”

Questions were raised over the new decorative barrier near the bottom of at John Street featuring dialect phrases such as “Far ye fae?” and “Fit lek 'e day?”

Kevin Angus wrote disapprovingly: “Lived in Caithness for 41 years, spent a year in Aberdeen in 1988 and that’s the only time I’ve ever heard the phrases ‘Far ye fae?’ and ‘Fit like today?’ What has this got to do with Wick or Caithness?”

Along with the five artworks inspired by Wick’s heritage, benches and planters have been put in place and barriers removed to increase accessibility.

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