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Nelson, meet Leonard

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Nelson has been one of the “mane” attractions at Clifton Park in Rotherham for 60 years, but now there’s another roarsome addition – Leonard, the gentle, poetry-loving lion.

As part of his residency at BookTrust, Illustrator in Residence Ed Vere was really keen to paint a mural in a public place that could tie in with a community reading focus and help spread the love of books. Luckily, Rotherham Council were the perfect partners for Ed’s wonderful Leonard the lion mural, which has been created in the grounds of Clifton Park.

Nelson was loaned to Rotherham Museum in 1946 and put on display in the Museum’s entrance hall, and stayed there until his special “Lion’s Den” was built in 1998.

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Sadly Nelson has been inaccessible to the public for five months due to the COVID-19 pandemic but together, Leonard and Nelson will help the museum as it starts to develop its new Early Years programme. There will be many opportunities for young children to explore the museum, enjoy stories and develop their creativity.

The 8 foot by 12 foot Leonard the Lion mural can be found outside the Garden Building, close to the museum.

Ed said: “I’m a great believer in the power of art. During my time as Booktrust’s Illustrator in Residence, I wanted to make a mural that felt enormously positive right in the centre of a community. I hope to draw attention to the importance of reading with and for young children by painting Leonard from my book, How to be a Lion.

“When the Booktrust team suggested Rotherham through their contacts with Grimm & Co, and Rotherham Council made the link with Nelson it felt like the perfect fit. I hope the mural will be a warm and positive presence for many years to come, and to remind everyone of the pleasure of drawing and reading. I also hope that Leonard and Nelson will like each other.”

How to be a Lion is the winner of Oscar’s Book Prize 2019, elected by the children’s laureate Lauren Child and a jury including Sarah Brown. The book tells the tale of a lion who is kind and compassionate, writing poetry and making friends with a duck named Marianne. The loveable Leonard stands up to his peers who criticise his friendships and proves that you don’t have to roar to be heard.

Ed, added: “How to be a Lion tries to show that being gentle, considerate and exhibiting a sensitive side are not weaknesses. They’re part of being a well-rounded, thinking, human being. It’s a book about thinking for yourself and standing up for who you are.”

Cllr Sarah Allen, Rotherham Council’s Cabinet Member for Cleaner, Greener Communities, said: “We’re delighted to support Ed’s work both as a muralist and as an advocate for children’s literacy and learning. The mural of Leonard will help to raise awareness of the importance of reading from a very young age. The story is one of kindness, compassion and hope which will be hugely important characteristics of our communities as we recover from COVID-19, and it will be a fantastic welcome back to Clifton Park Museum for our residents and visitors.”

Rotherham-based children’s literacy charity Grimm & Co helped to facilitate the mural coming to Rotherham.

Louise Treloar, Communications Coordinator at Grimm & Co, added: “We are thrilled that Ed’s mural will be sited here in Rotherham. It’s so important to us that children and young people can take pride in their town, and we think this mural is a great way to start with the joy of stories. This has been a wonderful collaboration between Grimm & Co, Clifton Park Museum, BookTrust and Ed to help children enjoy stories and illustration from an early age. We hope we can continue this relationship and make Rotherham a story destination together.”

The mural will be on display initially outside of the Garden Building, with potential to incorporate the mural as a permanent feature within the surroundings of the museum.

Images: Grimm & Co / Ed Vere

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Tom Austen
Tom grew up in Aston, Rotherham and studied Human Geography at Nottingham Trent University before developing a passion for promoting Rotherham and a nose for a good story.

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