Affordable housing provider announces £75,000 prize winner of national public art competition

A leading affordable housing provider has announced the £75,000 prize winner of its first-ever national public art competition.

Coda Workshop's Winning Idea For The George Blunden Public Art Prize Landscape

Stonewater, which manages around 34,500 homes across England, launched the George Blunden Public Art Prize this year to find a talented artist to produce creative artwork as a focal point for five of its new affordable housing developments.

The housing provider has commissioned local artists to provide public art for its developments for nearly a decade and launched the competition with the aim of enriching its public art initiative by attracting artists from a wide range of disciplines to voice new and innovative ideas.

More than 160 artists from all over the UK registered their interest in the inaugural contest to pitch ideas for art installations aimed at building community spirit and inspiring residents.

George Blunden, the housing association’s founding Board Chair and a champion of public art within its communities, announced the winner at a virtual awards ceremony on 25 November.

The top prize has gone to Coda Workshop – an architecture, sculpture and design studio specialising in creative, high quality and low-energy projects.

Based in Birmingham, the studio is run by artists Bryn Hallett and Mark Rousseau. Both qualified architects, they pride themselves on their focus on sustainability, collaboration and a sensitive approach to heritage.

Their previous projects have included transforming a warehouse into apartments in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter and conversion of a Cotswolds barn into a five-bedroom house and artist’s studio.

They will now work with Stonewater and local communities to design striking pieces of art for public spaces in new affordable housing schemes being built over the coming year, including developments in Herefordshire and South Somerset.

The competition invited artists to present ideas for a long-term, low maintenance installation at Mulberry Meadows, a 125-home development Stonewater is building in Castle Cary.

A panel of Stonewater customers and colleagues judged the submissions, which also needed to demonstrate how artists would work with communities to develop and deliver their artworks.

Stonewater’s Chief Executive, Nicholas Harris, said: “We’re really proud of the work we’ve done over the years to enhance our communities and convey a distinctive sense of place through public art.

“By launching the George Blunden Public Art Prize we’ve been able to showcase a wide variety of ideas, from artists of all disciplines, to demonstrate how their ground-breaking work can evolve our initiative now, and in years to come.

“From being on the final judging panel, I know first-hand just how tough the competition was, but I’m absolutely delighted to see Bryn and Mark crowned the winners and look forward to seeing their work installed at our developments. Congratulations!”

Jonathan Layzell, Executive Director of Development at Stonewater, said: “No matter the project, we always strive to partner with individuals and companies whose values align with our own. From their proposal and final presentation, it was clear that both Bryn and Mark’s work is centred around creating spaces that improve the quality of people’s lives and wellbeing, which is exactly what our work to enhance the public realm is all about.

“They are more than worthy winners of our George Blunden Public Art Prize winners and I know I speak for the whole development team, when I say we’re looking forward to working with them over the next year.”

Competition judge and Development Manager (South) at Stonewater, Jacqueline Burton, said: “It was a privilege to sit on the panel and judge the six finalists’ ideas based on their creativity, how they would engage with the local community and consideration for supporting our sustainability initiatives.

“We were particularly impressed with the research that had gone into the proposal by Coda Workshop. Their idea of creating something that would not just serve as a piece of art, but a meeting point too, which residents can gather round, is exactly the kind of art we try to commission for each of our schemes.”

Stonewater launched the competition as part of its longstanding commitment to creating thought-provoking artwork around its new homes and in support of its stepped-up housebuilding programme.

The organisation has installed art in its schemes’ public spaces for nearly a decade, working with communities and commissioned artists to create pieces conveying a distinctive sense of place, exploring each local area’s history and characteristics.

Now Stonewater is leading a significant housebuilding programme, aiming to build at least 1,500 homes a year from 2022 and presenting many more opportunities to commission public art for communities to enjoy.